Middle-aged men who do not feel satisfied with sex are more at risk of developing memory complications later in life compared to those with a high sexual satisfaction, research reveals.

A study led by Penn State academics has identified a link between future cognitive decline and lower sexual satisfaction and erectile function in men between the ages of 56 and 68.

Chief author Professor Martin Sliwinski said: “What was unique about our approach is that we measured memory function and sexual function at each point in the longitudinal study, so we could look at how they changed together over time.

“What we found connects to what scientists are beginning to understand about the link between life satisfaction and cognitive performance.”

During the experiment, the research team examined how microvascular and psychological changes affected a man’s cognitive ability.

The academics decided to assess 818 middle-aged men because at this age they start to experience erectile problems and a lower sexual satisfaction.

“Scientists have found that if you have low satisfaction generally, you are at a higher risk for health problems like dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease and other stress-related issues that can lead to cognitive decline,” said Professor Sliwinski.

He added: “Improvements in sexual satisfaction may actually spark improvement in memory function.

“We tell people they should get more exercise and eat better foods. We’re showing that sexual satisfaction also has importance for our health and general quality of life.”

The researchers tested the participants cognitive ability from the age of 56 to 68 by analysing their performance in a memory assessment.

They used the International Index of Erectile Function to measure each participant’s erectile function, sexual satisfaction and cognitive ability.

Fellow author Riki Slayday said: “Research on sexual health has historically focused on quantifiable facets of sexuality like number of sexual partners or frequency of sexual activity.

“What we were interested in is the perception of that activity, how someone feels about their sex life, and how that influences cognitive function, because multiple people could be in the same situation physically but experience completely different levels of satisfaction.”

According to the findings, decreases in erectile function and sexual satisfaction were both linked to memory decline.

“When we mapped the relationship over time, we found increases or decreases in erectile function and sexual satisfaction were associated with concurrent increases or decreases in cognitive function,” said Slayday.

He added: “These associations survived adjustment for demographic and health factors, which tells us there is a clear connection between our sex lives and our cognition.”

Professor Sliwinski concluded: “We already have a pill for treating erectile dysfunction. What we don’t have is an effective treatment for memory loss.

“Instead of the conversation being about treating erectile dysfunction, we should see that as a leading indicator for other health problems and also focus on improving sexual satisfaction and overall well-being, not just treating the symptom.”

This review has been published in the journal The Gerontologist.

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