Sex and intimacy can help you live longer

Here’s How Sex and Intimacy Help You Live Longer, says Molly Maloof, M.D.

For many, sex is fun and pleasurable—but it’s also pretty important to human existence. Sex plays a significant role in individual well-being, and perhaps even longevity. 

Unfortunately, some public health organizations and entities continue to advertise not-so-positive outcomes after having sex, such as sexually transmitted infections, unintended pregnancy, sexual dysfunction, and more. This outdated narrative and outlook on sex (note: sex therapy hasn’t been reinvented since the 1960s, per the American Psychological Association) can be damaging as it overlooks the fact that sexual pleasure is a distinct element of well-being.

Sexual pleasure can play a key role in nurturing healthy relationships and, ultimately, extending your lifespan. In fact, having a good sex life has been shown to improve physical and mental well-being, both of which help you have a vibrant life overall.

Here are just five ways maintaining, or improving, your sex life can have profound effects on your overall health. 

5 Benefits of Sex and Intimacy

Although sex and intimacy are often used interchangeably, they’re actually two different things. 

Here’s the deal: Intimacy involves openness and acceptance between partners (this can be emotional, such as communicating about what you don’t like, or physical, like post-sex cuddling). On the other hand, sex is solely the physical activity—and of course, it’s possible to have sex without intimacy and vice versa.

1. It Maintains Quality of Life

Research shows that sexual health can improve your quality of life (no big surprise there!) — even if you’re older in age. As a result, it can increase your lifespan, too. 

In fact, 62.2 percent of men and 42.8 percent of women reported that sexual health was highly important to quality of life in a 2016 study of 3,515 adults in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. And, people in excellent health had higher satisfaction with their sex lives than those who had fair or poor health. Based on these results, the study authors note that sexual health screenings should be a routine part of physician visits—so if your doc doesn’t bring it up, make sure you do.

Meanwhile, those ages 65 and older who said their sexual relationship was “sufficient” reported better quality of life and lower incidence of sexual dysfunction than those who described their relationship as “moderate” or “poor,” according to a 2023 study. This was also true for those who considered themselves attractive and had sex frequently with their partner or spouse. 

What do these studies suggest? When your sex life is better, your overall outlook on life may improve too.

2. It Contributes to Satisfying Relationships & Mental Health

Sexual activity may also contribute to longevity by making your relationships more stable and satisfying—and by boosting your mental health.

Sexual satisfaction is a main factor in predicting relationship satisfaction in both men and women, according to a small-scale study, found in a 2023 issue of the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. For women, interpersonal closeness was also important (measured by statements like “I always consider my partner when making important decisions” or “I miss my partner when we are apart”). 

In addition, one 2019 study revealed that frequent, longer lasting bouts of sex was associated with higher sexual satisfaction, which in turn, lead to stronger relationships. This was true for all relationship types, including same-sex, mixed-sex, and gender-diverse relationships. 

Beyond its physical implications, sexual activity and intimacy can also contribute to mental health, something that’s increasingly understood to influence longevity. 

Researchers examined the impact of sexual activity (or lack thereof) in a study published in a 2021 issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine. They found that people who didn’t have sex during the COVID-19-related lockdown had a 27 percent higher risk of developing anxiety and a 34 percent higher chance of depression compared to those who did.

3. It May Reduce the Risk of Cancer & Heart Disease

A great sex life can also keep your prostate—and other parts of your body—healthy. 

Scientists monitored the frequency of orgasms in nearly 32,000 men over an 18-year period in a 2016 study published in European Urology. Their findings suggested that a higher frequency of orgasms was associated with a reduced risk of developing prostate cancer later in life. 

More specifically, men (both in their 20s and 40s) who reported 21 or more orgasms per month had about 20 percent lower risk of developing prostate cancer compared to those who ejaculated four to seven times per month.

What’s more? Engaging in a vibrant sexual life also seems to benefit heart health, even in those with heart disease, per a study from a 2022 issue of the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology

Heart attack patients who reported having sex at least once per week had a slightly lower risk of dying from heart disease (though more research is needed to determine if that lowered risk is statistically significant) and a more notable 44 percent lower risk of dying from non-heart disease causes—compared to those who had sex less. This is even after researchers adjusted for additional factors, including age, gender, partner status, and smoking.

4. It Can Boost Your Immune System 

Research suggests sex can support your immune system, as it offers a shield against illnesses and bolsters your resilience to viruses.

In a study, found in a 2021 issue of Fertility and Sterility, researchers assigned 16,000 participants to one of two groups: those who reported having sex more than three times per month and those who reported having sex less than three times per month. They found that 76.6 percent of those in the first group did not get infected with COVID-19 over the course of four months—and even those who did get infected tended to have milder cases than those in the second group, where nearly half of the group got infected.

These findings suggest that as your sexual activity increases, your immune system may be better equipped to combat pathogens. But of course, sexual activity alone can’t prevent infectious disease, so be sure to take all appropriate measures to avoid infections like COVID-19—particularly if you’re at high risk for serious disease.

5. It May Independently Extend Your Lifespan

While factors like quality of life, a strong immune system, and lowered risk of cancer may all contribute to your longevity, research shows that sex alone may be able to extend your lifespan

For instance, the findings from a study—found in a 2022 issue of the Journal of Applied Gerontology—showed that sexual well-being was positively associated with longevity in those who perceived sexuality as important to them.

Although research suggests your desire to have sex may begin to decline as you get older, plenty of men and women continue to have sex semi-regularly as they enter those later decades of life. Among those aged 80 and older, 19 percent of men and 32 percent of women reported having sex frequently (which is described as twice a month or more), according to a study from a 2015 edition of Archives of Sexual Behavior.

Frequently Asked Questions

How often should you have sex for longevity benefits?

The frequency of sex is less important than the quality. Having sex frequently but only being moderately satisfied or in pain won’t have the benefits of having less frequent, but more satisfying sex. Consider working with a sex therapist to help improve your relationship with sex. If you experience pain during penetration, and you’re someone with a vagina, ask your physician about pelvic floor physical therapy.

Should I expect sex frequency to naturally decline with time?

Maybe you’re having sex that feels fine, but is it the best sex you could be having? 

For example, perhaps you find yourself in a long-term relationship with a partner you love dearly, but with whom sex has become boring—it’s OK, it can happen. You may be thinking that after a certain age or length of a relationship, things become predictable and that’s just the way it is—but that doesn’t have to be true. 

Many people and couples who struggle with lack of sexual pleasure don’t get the support they need. There is increasing evidence for sexual pleasure as a marker for overall well-being. Taking care of your sexuality means taking care of your health, so don’t wait around to get guidance in this area of your life. 

What should I do if sex has become boring or lackluster?

There are a number of ways you can improve the quality of the sex you’re having. Working with a sex coach or therapist or signing up for a therapeutic program can help, and may also improve the quality of your health.

For example, I founded The Adamo Method, which is a psychosexual somatic therapy designed to improve sexual satisfaction, improve sexual performance, and increase feelings of emotional closeness between couples. It’s led by renowned somatic sex and intimacy practitioner Aaron Michael, M.A., and psychosexual psychologist Saida Desilets, Ph.D. 

We teamed up with these talented individuals as well as public health and medical professionals to contribute research and improve treatment options for those who want to optimize their sexual health and overcome sexual challenges in a novel way. 

If you have questions about your sexual health or are encountering conditions like erectile dysfunction, also be sure to talk to your doctor, who can walk through treatment options with you. 

1. American Psychological Association (2019). CE Corner: Sex therapy for the 21st century: Five emerging directions.
2. Kirstin R Mitchell et al (2021). What is sexual wellbeing and why does it matter for public health? 
3. Utah State University (2020). What is Intimacy? 
4. Kathryn E Flynn  et al (2016). Sexual Satisfaction and the Importance of Sexual Health to Quality of Life Throughout the Life Course of U.S. Adults. 
5. Nur Elçin Boyacıoğlu et al (2023). Sexuality, quality of life and psychological well-being in older adults: A correlational study. 
6. Natalia Maja Józefacka et al (2023). What Matters in a Relationship—Age, Sexual Satisfaction, Relationship Length, and Interpersonal Closeness as Predictors of Relationship Satisfaction in Young Adults.
7. Christina Dyar et al (2019). A Structural Equation Model of Sexual Satisfaction and Relationship Functioning Among Sexual and Gender Minority Individuals Assigned Female at Birth in Diverse Relationships.
8. Daniele Mollaioli et al (2021). Benefits of Sexual Activity on Psychological, Relational, and Sexual Health During the COVID-19 Breakout. 
9. Jennifer R Rider et al (2016). Ejaculation Frequency and Risk of Prostate Cancer: Updated Results with an Additional Decade of Follow-up.
10. Luke Curtis et al (2020). Sex saves lives.
12. Shanice Beerepoot et al (2022). Enjoyment of Sexuality and Longevity in Late Midlife and Older Adults: The Longitudinal Ageing Study Amsterdam. 
13. David M. Lee et al (2015). Sexual Health and Well-being Among Older Men and Women in England: Findings from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing.