Sex on the brain: Regular heterosexual intercourse may improve memory in women, study suggests

It’s not the hottest-sounding research title, but a new study by McGill University researchers suggests regular “PVI” (penile-vaginal intercourse) is linked to better memory function in women.

The team tested 78  women, ages 18 to 29, on their ability to recall words and faces.

The more the women reported, the higher their memory scores for words, but not faces.

The authors say the findings build on animal studies that suggest sex increases the growth and development of nerve tissue in the hippocampus, the brain’s memory-forming region.

Memory for words largely hinges on the hippocampus, while memory for faces relies, to a greater extent, on surrounding “extra-hippocampal structures,” they write in Archives of Sexual Behavior.

It’s not clear, however, how much sex women need to engage in, in order to reap the potential memory benefits, or whether other variables might be at a play. Asks Forbes.com, “Did the women who had sex more frequently have different types of jobs that train memory better, or were they from families that played Scrabble much more frequently?”

The study, and small sample size, doesn’t prove cause and effect. And it’s a classic chicken-and-egg dilemma: if the correlation holds, what came first — better memory, or more sex?

“We’re not advocating go out and have sex,” said first author Larah .

“It could be people who happen to be healthier, have less depressive and less anxiety are more likely to have sex, and also are better at memorizing things because they might not be distracted by those other feelings,” she said.

Still, the Montreal team believes it is the first to explore the frequency of sex on memory in young women.

Studies in rats found those copulating once a day for 14 days scored higher on memory tasks than “sexually naive” rats. The sexually active rodents also showed an increase in the number of new neurons in the hippocampus.

In the McGill study, the women had to memorize a series of faces and abstract words (intangible nouns that are harder to picture, such as “chastity” compared to “chair.”)

They also completed a questionnaire that asked, among other things, how frequently they had sex in the previous month (from “I’m not sex at all”, to once a day or more.)

“We found a significant relationship between how often the women had self-reported having sex and their score on the memory test for abstract words,” Maunder said.

There are a number of possible explanations why intercourse might generate neurons in the hippocampus, and/or memory, she and her colleagues write.

Sex is a form of exercise, and rodent studies have found associations between running, and enhanced cognition.

The “rewarding” aspect of mating might also boost neurogenesis, they said, while engaging in sex decreases stress and symptoms of depression — both of which can impair memory function.

The researchers are conducting experiments, in men. “Preliminary results suggest something might be going on for them, too,” Maunder said.

National Post

About Sharon Kirkey