The basic structure of your brain is established before you are born. But neurogenesis—the birth of new neuronal cells—can happen throughout your life. One way to boost brain growth? Having sex

Researchers at McGill University, Canada, set out to determine if sex, specifically penile-vaginal intercourse, was related to memory function in healthy female college students, and to what degree. 

In a 2017 study published in Archives of Sexual Behavior, researchers asked 78 heterosexual women aged 18 to 29 years to self-report how often they had penile-vaginal intercourse, and to complete a computerized memory test consisting of abstract words and neutral faces. Their results showed that young women who engage in frequent intercourse had an easier time remembering abstract words, but not faces, than their less sexually active counterparts. 

How does sex improve memory?

Animal studies have found that the frequency of penile-vaginal intercourse is helpful in improving cognitive function by increasing neurogenesis in the hippocampus, an area of the brain involved in learning and memory.  

Additionally, other animal studies have established that aerobic exercise, like running, has been shown to boost neurogenesis as well. The McGill researchers speculated that sex could be considered a form of exercise, so it should also have the same effect and improve memory function and the ability to learn in humans. 

The relationship between sex and the hippocampus 

This is significant because specifically, memory for words depends mostly on the hippocampus, but memory for faces relies on structures surrounding the hippocampus—not the hippocampus directly. 

Because of this, the researchers in the McGill University study concluded that their results were also specific for memory dependent on the hippocampus, suggesting that neurogenesis is higher in those women who have penile-vaginal intercourse more often, similar to the previous animal research. 

Read more: 10 must-try sex toys for yourself or with a partner

Sex protects your brain against stress, anxiety and depression

Chronic stress has been shown to be one of the strongest inhibitors of memory and neurogenesis in the hippocampus. The more stress you have, the more it blunts neurogenesis. The good news is that having sex can counteract those suppressive effects.  

Other studies have demonstrated that penile-vaginal intercourse can reduce levels of anxiety as well. Women have reported experiencing lower levels of anxiety symptoms the day after engaging in sex than when they did not have sex the previous day. In combination, these studies prompted researchers to propose that women who engage in more frequent sex benefit from higher rates of neurogenesis, thanks to decreased levels of stress and anxiety.

Depression has also been associated with impaired neurogenesis and impaired memory function. And lo and behold, having sex is also associated with decreased symptoms of depression.

Considering these findings, the researchers at McGill believe that if engaging in more frequent sex lowers stress levels and symptoms of anxiety and depression, this could result in more brain cells being created due to increased neurogenesis in the hippocampus, with improved memory function as the prize.

However, future studies are necessary to determine how the mechanisms behind these observations work together, and how different forms of sexual activity beyond penile-vaginal intercourse relate to brain function, too. But the evidence stacks up to show there are certain benefits to having sex on the brain (pun very much intended). 


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