SEX: The Good News About Aging
I am a committed hedonist and thus begin this story secure in my advice that you should do things that feel good in life. And nothing feels better than sex. Just ask Gael Greene, the legendary and bawdy restaurant reviewer for New York Magazine, who chronicled her life in a delicious memoir a few years back entitled Insatiable (she has a quickie hotel romp with Elvis in the opening chapter; he asks her for a fried egg sandwich). “I have read restaurant critics who claimed to have tasted chocolate ice cream that was better than sex. I have never eaten anything that was better than sex; almost as good as great sex, perhaps, but never better.”
There are downsides to most pleasures in life. Alcohol in excess turns sour. Food will pile up on your thighs. Exotic luxury travel is ridiculously expensive. But sex – sex is free, if you have engineered things in your life correctly.
And sex can make you more youthful. This is not just my assertion. The world expert on intercourse as the fountain of youth is one Dr. David Weeks. He made a big splash this summer at a sleepy convention in Colchester, England, for the British Psychological Society.
A former head of old age psychology at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, Weeks has spent nearly three decades exploring things that contribute to people looking and feeling younger than their chronological age. He called sexual pleasure a “crucial factor” in maintaining youth. In fact, his own study of 3,500 participants (aged 18 to 102) revealed that people who enjoy a good sex life with a long-term partner can appear seven to 12 years younger. (A panel viewed participants from behind one-way glass to determine perceived versus actual age.) As Weeks told the assembled British behaviorists: “Sexual satisfaction is a major contributor to quality of life, ranking at least as high as spiritual or religious commitment and other morale factors, so more positive attitudes towards mature sex should be vigorously promoted.”
How does sex work as an antidote to aging? The most powerful thing that passion releases is human growth hormone, which is a key factor in keeping your skin elastic and reducing the look of wrinkles. But sex stirs up many more happy chemicals than that. Add in an increase of testosterone and estrogen released by sexual activity, and you have firmer muscles, shinier skin and softer hair.
Then there is the feeling younger part. Sex floods our brains with endorphins and oxytocin. These improve mood, and attitude is the best weapon we have against the negative sides of aging. It is the first thing we notice about people, long before we get close enough to map wrinkles, and positive people take positive control of how they are perceived. These hormones also encourage a greater appreciation of intimacy and soothe the anxious beast. They are also great natural painkillers. And an increase in the hormone prolactin, when added to the physical stress release of sex, helps with that great bugbear of ageing: getting enough good quality sleep. Sex also improves circulation and immune function, and younger is as healthy does.
Weeks adds that he is talking about people in committed relationships as the risks and problems associated with random and unruly multiple partnerships outweigh the benefits. He also says that more sex is better (to wit, he cites a U.K. study wherein participants who had sex three times a week stayed substantially healthier than their compatriots who had sex only twice a week). And orgasms count: a big finish releases more of the happy hormones into your system.
But in my mind, these vast and manifest physiological benefits are secondary to the real revivifying effect of good sex in a healthy relationship. Sex is time where you unplug from everything in the world save for an intense connection with another person. There is no replacing the thrill that you get to be the only person in the world who sees your lover at his or her most vulnerable and open and that you are letting go and risking as much of yourself.
That delicate dance is the ultimate goal for a hedonist. A pleasure that cannot be compared to chocolate of any kind.
Leanne Delap is a freelance journalist who writes about fashion and lifestyle.
Zoomer magazine, Dec/Jan Issue