Sexual activity and cognitive decline in older adults

Mark S. Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


This prospective study tested whether sexual activity and emotional closeness during partnered sexual activity relate to cognitive decline (episodic memory performance) in older adulthood. 

In total, 6016 adults aged 50 and over (2672 men, 3344 women; M age = 66.0 ± 8.8 years) completed an episodic memory task and self-report questions related to health, sexual activity, and emotional closeness. Two years later, participants again completed the episodic memory task. After controlling for demographic and health-related lifestyle factors, more frequent sexual activity and greater emotional closeness during partnered sexual activity were associated with better memory performance. The association between sexual activity and memory performance was stronger among older participants in the sample. Memory performance worsened over 2 years, but change in memory performance was unrelated to sexual activity or emotional closeness during partnered sexual activity. 

These findings build on experimental research that has found sexual activity enhances episodic memory in non-human animals. Further research using longer timeframes and alternative measures of cognitive decline is recommended.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1711-1719
Number of pages9
JournalArchives of Sexual Behavior
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Cognitive function
  • Episodic memory
  • Gerontology
  • Sexual health
  • Social behavior


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