Study: Good sex increases heart disease risk for older men, not women

Women experience health benefits from "extremely pleasurable" sex, but men may be risking their health by overdoing it.

By Stephen Feller

ANN ARBOR, Mich., Sept. 8 (UPI) -- Mediocre, less frequent sex may be better for older men's health than having as much great sex as possible, according to a recent study.

While women benefit from great sex, researchers at Michigan State University found men who frequently have extremely pleasurable sex are twice as likely to develop cardiovascular disease or experience adverse health event related to the heart.


The study, published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, appears to contradict decades of research that has consistently shown the health benefit of sex for both men and women, but lead researcher Hui Liu said the study differs from other studies because it focused only on older people, which makes a difference.

"These findings challenge the widely held assumption that sex brings uniform health benefits to everyone," Liu, an associate professor of sociology at Michigan State University, said in a press release.


For the study, researchers reviewed survey and medical data for 2,204 men and women first collected in 2005 and 2006 as part of the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project. Follow-up medical data was collected five years later on cardiovascular health risks such as hypertension, rapid heart rate and elevated C-reactive protein, as well as health events such as heart attack, heart failure and stroke.

The researchers found older men having sex once a week or more made them twice as likely to have a cardiovascular health event than those who are sexually inactive, and those who described frequent sex as "extremely pleasurable" were at even higher risk.

Women who found their sex lives extremely pleasurable or satisfying had a lower risk of hypertension over the course of five years than women who are less satisfied with sex, which Liu said appears to be a protective effect of good sex on cardiovascular health.

While Liu said a combination of better relationships -- reporting sex as being good is often indicative of a good emotional relationship -- and hormones released during orgasm could be the reason for women's benefit from great sex.

Liu said she was surprised by the results for men, because of previous research, but said a combination of more physical effort being required for older men to reach orgasm, testosterone levels and the use of medication to improve sexual function could be having an effect on cardiovascular health.


Men's drive for sex may cause them to ignore whether they are physically capable of having sex, let alone whether it is advisable, making health risk factors more significant.

"It's about being careful and understanding the risk factors," Laura Berman, a clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University, told CNN. "If you're talking about the typical sexual scenario for most baby boomers, it's him on top, doing the work. It does make sense to me that it may be more risk factors for an older man than an older woman."

Liu said older men should be talking to their doctors about whether it is advisable to have sex. For patients who have already had heart or other health problems, some doctors recommend that sex is not advisable until a patient can make it up and down a flight of stairs without difficulty.

"Physicians should talk to older male patients about potential risks of high levels of sexual activity and perhaps screen those who frequently have sex for cardiovascular issues," Liu said.

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