Does a Healthy Sex Drive Help Men Live Longer?
Certain risk factors associated with early death—tobacco use, poor diet, lack of exercise—are well-established. Conversely, leading a healthy life through diet and working out can decrease the chances of an early exit.
Now, recent research from Japan suggests a new, surprising potential factor at play, and it raises a question that's fascinated many people: Does a healthy appetite for sex make you live longer?
The research, conducted by researchers at Yamagata University, found that males with low libido are nearly twice as likely to die an early death than their horny peers. An important caveat here is that the health of the participants, including the libidinous ones, played a large role, too.
The study structure
The multiyear study recruited 20,969 local subjects—8,558 men and 12,411 women—ages 40 and older. The researchers followed participants for up to nine years to determine the link between libido and mortality, including "all-cause" mortality (death from any cause), heart disease mortality and cancer mortality.
At the beginning of the study, the researchers assessed the overall health and sex drive of participants using a questionnaire. The self-reported survey included questions about the following:
- Medications and symptoms
- Blood pressure
- Frequency of laughter
- Sexual interest
- Smoking status
- Alcohol consumption
- Physical activity
- Marital status
- Education level
- Perceived mental stress
Involvement in social activities was also on the questionnaire.
To determine the sex interest level of participants, the survey asked the question, "Currently, do you have any interest in people of the opposite sex?"
Researchers conducted a follow-up survey on patients after an average of seven years. Of the original 20,969 subjects, 503 died during the period between the first questionnaire and the follow-up.
The study's results
The study showed that all-cause mortality was significantly higher for men who reported a lack of sexual interest. Specifically, 9.6 percent of the men who reported no sexual interest died compared to just 5.6 percent among those who were interested in sexual activity. This was true even after controlling for factors such as age, hypertension, diabetes, smoking, alcohol consumption, BMI, education, marital status, frequency of laughter and psychological distress.
Interestingly, while women were more than twice as likely as men to report lower libidos, researchers did not find a significant link between female sex drive and mortality.
The research team speculated that unaccounted-for health issues and poor lifestyle habits may have been contributing to participants' lower libido. According to the scientists, men who lacked sexual interest had higher rates of being past smokers and drinkers, were more likely to have diabetes, were psychologically distressed and laughed less.
"Based on our results, we suggest that lack of sexual interest itself contributes to an increased risk of all-cause mortality, independent of established risk factors in men over 40 years old," the researchers wrote. "However, it is possible that some important confounding factors were not identified or adjusted."
The research team speculated that having an interest in sex may contribute to positive psychological well-being and "ikigai"—a Japanese word meaning reason for living.
"Taking interest in the people around you, including the opposite sex, and interacting with them could help you remain mentally sound and have something to live for," study author Kaori Sakurada told Japanese newspaper The Asahi Shimbun. "Communicating with those of the opposite sex, however old you are, could help you live longer."
The research team noted that a potential limitation of the study was neglecting to control for sexual orientation.
"We suggest that future research should include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) adults," they wrote.
How can sex make you live longer?
The study's sample size and long timeline make it useful, according to Christopher C. Kyle, M.D., a urologist with the Oregon Urology Institute in Springfield, Oregon, who was not involved in the study.
"The fact that all their data was captured prospectively is really favorable," Kyle said. "They used some pretty impressive statistical analysis to control for factors that could have affected sexual interest."
That being said, the researchers weren't able to control for everything, Kyle added. Importantly, the study may not have actually controlled for depression because very few participants admitted to a history of the disease. Given how prevalent the mental health condition is and the stigma surrounding it, Kyle believes the rate of depression was likely underreported.
"Depression has an adverse effect on your health and life expectancy," he said. "It also has an adverse effect on your sexual interest."
Ultimately, the participants' lack of sexual interest is likely more a byproduct of something other than the cause of mortality, Kyle added.
"For me as a clinician, the take-home message is if someone has a declining sexual interest, we need to investigate that further," he said. "Having a strong sex drive can be a very healthy thing. Having no sex drive doesn't necessarily mean that it's unhealthy, but it could also be a reflection of health issues."
What are the causes of a low sex drive?
In general, sex drive tends to decline as people age, said Gregory Paczkowski, M.D., a family medicine specialist in Minneapolis and the CEO and co-founder of Mona Health, a telemedicine platform. Beyond age, chronic diseases, including diabetes and obesity, play a major part in dwindling libido.
Testosterone problems can sometimes be at the root of a low sex drive, Kyle added. Low-T can be caused by a number of factors, including:
- Medical treatments
- Lifestyle choices
A common culprit behind low-T is metabolic syndrome—a group of conditions such as high blood pressure, increased blood sugar and excess body fat that together raise your risk of serious health problems. Low-T can be a product of poor sleep, Kyle said.
Medications can also contribute to a dip in libido, according to Paczkowski.
"One of the most common reasons people on SSRIs—selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors—want to get off their medications is because of its impact on their sex drive," he said.
In addition, psychological factors such as depression and anxiety can drive down sexual desire.
"People who don't have a companion or aren't in a relationship may also have decreased sexual activity and lower sex drive," Kyle said.
How to improve your sex drive
If you are concerned about a low sex drive, you can take actions that could give it a boost.
"First of all, I would recommend you work on your sleep," Kyle said. "Sleep is one of the most important things when it comes to sex drive because it affects testosterone."
To improve your sleep, Kyle recommends practicing "good sleep hygiene." That includes tactics such as sleeping in a cool, dark room, avoiding screens and minimizing sleep interruptions.
Kyle also advised avoiding smoking, including excessive cannabis use, which can inhibit sexual desire.
Paczkowski emphasized the need to stay fit through proper diet and exercise.
"Working on controlling obesity and exercising to promote cardiovascular health on a regular basis can impact sexual health in a positive way," Paczkowski said.
In addition to cardiovascular workouts, Kyle stressed the importance of strength training.
"We know getting regular resistance-based exercise can improve testosterone and improve sex drive," he said.
Resistance training can include lifting weights or performing resistance-based body weight exercises, like air squats or pushups, he said.
Beyond improving your physical health, Paczkowski suggested that working on your relationship with your partner could help increase desire.
"Focus on the importance of a relationship and caring for another person," Paczkowski said. "Really understanding of the person you're engaged with physically might make sex more enjoyable."