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Updated 08 September 2016

Sex healthy for ageing women, but risky for older men

Satisfying sexual activity poses cardiovascular risks for ageing men, but could actually protect older women from certain health problems, researchers say.

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Frequent, satisfying sexual activity poses cardiovascular risks for older men, but regular orgasmic sex could actually protect ageing women from certain health problems, researchers say.

Good quality relationships

"These findings challenge the widely held assumption that sex brings uniform health benefits to everyone," said Hui Liu, an associate professor of sociology at Michigan State University and lead author of the large-scale study.

The researchers analysed national survey data from 2 204 people aged 47–85 for the federally funded project, publishing the results in the Journal of Health and Social Behaviour.

Female participants who "found sex to be extremely pleasurable or satisfying" were less likely to develop hypertension than those who found less gratification in sex, researchers said.

Read: Pleasure fibres help with bonding

"This may be more relevant to women than to men," Liu said, "because men in all relationships, regardless of quality, are more likely to receive support from their partner than are women. However, only women in good quality relationships may acquire such benefits from their partner."

The female sex hormone released during orgasm could also benefit women's health, Liu said.

On the flipside, men who had sex once or more a week were at a higher risk of cardiovascular problems.

Exertion to exhaustion

"Strikingly, we find that having sex once a week or more puts older men at a risk for experiencing cardiovascular events that is almost two times greater than older men who are sexually inactive," said Liu. "Moreover, older men who found sex with their partner extremely pleasurable or satisfying had higher risk of cardiovascular events than men who did not feel so."

Liu said as ageing men become "frail and suffer more sexual problems", the strain and pressure of sex and relationships might be to blame for the heightened heart health risks.

Read: Sex headaches turn pleasure to pain

"Because older men have more difficulties reaching orgasm for medical or emotional reasons than do their younger counterparts, they may exert themselves to a greater degree of exhaustion and create more stress on their cardiovascular system in order to achieve climax," she said.

Liu also noted that testosterone levels and the use of medications to improve libido might negatively affect male cardiovascular health.

The study authors measured cardiovascular risk as hypertension, rapid heart rate, elevated C-reactive protein and cardiovascular events including heart attack, heart failure and stroke.

The first wave of survey data was collected between 2005 and 2006, and five years later researchers gathered a second round.

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