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Sex later in life healthy for women, risky for men: study

Men need to be careful when having sex as they are more likely than women to experience a heart attack or stroke.
Men need to be careful when having sex as they are more likely than women to experience a heart attack or stroke. Joern Pollex/Getty Images

Having a lot of sex and enjoying it can be risky for older men and their health, but beneficial for older women, says a new Michigan State University study.

According to researchers, sex later in life puts men at a higher risk for heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems like strokes and heart failure, but actually lowers the risk of hypertension for women.

“These findings challenge the widely held assumption that sex brings uniform health benefits to everyone,” says Hui Liu, an associate professor of sociology at Michigan State University and co-author of the study.

READ MORE: Canadians have more adventurous sex as they get older, survey finds

The study looked at survey data from over 2,200 people between the ages of 57 and 85 in the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project in 2005 and then again five years later.

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What they found was that men who had sex once a week or more were twice as likely to experience a cardiovascular event than men who were sexually inactive.

There could be many reasons for this reaction, says Liu, but one that stands out could be the pressures men feel later in life when it comes to their sexual performance.

“Sex is not just physical; it’s also social, emotional and psychological,” she says. “There are higher expectations placed on men and their sexual performance and often they feel nervous as they get older when their performance isn’t what it used to be or they’re experiencing sexual dysfunction.”

She adds that as men age, they have more difficulties reaching orgasm for medical or emotional reasons and may exert themselves to the point of exhaustion, which create more stress on their cardiovascular system in an effort to achieve an orgasm.

But this doesn’t mean sex altogether is a bust for older men. Liu suggests that men limit their sexual encounters and talk to their doctor about getting regular cardiovascular screening.

For women, however, the experience is very different.

READ MORE: FDA approves drug to boost female libido, but with restrictions

It doesn’t matter how much sex older women have or how enjoyable it is, says Liu, good sexual quality protects older women from cardiovascular risk later in life.

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The reason for this, she says, is currently unknown.

But if couples want to get the most out of their sex life and relationship and maintain good physical health, Liu says emotional support is key.

According to her, if couples maintain a deep and close relationship and provide that support, this may help reduce stress and promote psychological well-being as well as cardiovascular health.