Good health and good sex? It's that chicken and egg thing. Being sexually active improves health in some powerful ways, but good health is also an important foundation for good sex. Sex may improve aspects of your health, but your sex life will be more frequent, enjoyable, and robust if you’re healthy to begin with (could that promise be the extra incentive you needed?).
That’s one finding of a landmark study on the sexuality of older adults (ages 57 to 85) completed in 2006 by the University of Chicago. According to the research, health rather than age is more closely linked to an active and satisfying sex life for both men and women. Respondents who rated themselves in very good or excellent health were more likely to be interested in sex, to have sex more often, to be satisfied with their sex lives, and to be sexually active longer than those who ranked themselves in fair or poor health. And many of these participants reported being sexually active well into their 70s and 80s.
It makes sense. People in good health tend to be pain-free; they’re probably stronger and more flexible than people in poor health; they probably feel good about themselves. All these factors improve the quality of both life and sex.
That’s good news because whatever your state of health, you can always do something to improve it. Health is something you have some control over. You can always exercise a little—or a little more. You can eat healthfully—less convenience food, less fat, more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. You can maintain a healthy weight. You can work to eliminate bad habits, like smoking. And to all the many benefits of good health, now you can add more years of an active and enjoyable sex life.
Since the quality of your sex life also depends on the continued good health of your partner, and since you both have a vested interest in staying healthy, you might leverage that common motivation into a joint self-improvement plan. You could alternate cooking healthy meals, join Weight Watchers (or some other program), participate in an exercise regimen together—walk, swim, do yoga, join a gym.
And when you’ve finished working out together, don’t waste that rosy glow. Why not enjoy the fruits of your labor? (Another study suggests that women taking antidepressants who had just exercised lowered their barrier to arousal. Just think what exercise will do for you!)
While good health is largely the result of a healthy lifestyle, it’s also affected by environment, fate, and genetic factors. And of course, we all tend to accumulate aches and pains as we age. In future posts, I'll explore some ways to deal with common health problems, such as arthritis and heart disease, that can profoundly affect the quality of both our lives and our sexuality. An active, loving sex life is possible, and even desirable, despite these health challenges. Patience, commitment, good communication, and a few tools can help maintain this important part of life.
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten.