Scientists have found a bold link between a lack of sex drive and an increase in the risk of death from all causes among men living in Japan. Before you go jumping to conclusions, there’s a lot to unpack from the study and some limitations to consider. Nevertheless, it hints that there may be an interesting association between libido and longevity, a relationship that’s not been identified before.
In the new study, researchers at Yamagata University looked at data on 20,969 people (8,558 males and 12,411 females) aged over 40 who took part in annual health check-ups in the Yamagata Prefecture, a region of Japan known for its snowy mountains and hot springs. They then assessed their levels of sexual interest and their risk of dying from cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other health conditions.
In sum, they found that all causes of death were significantly higher among men who lacked sexual interest. This remained true even after they accounted for age, diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia, smoking, alcohol intake, BMI, education, marital status, frequency of laughter, and psychological distress.
Although the women in the study were more than twice as likely to report low sex drive than the men, the researchers didn’t find any link between their low libido and mortality.
“Although sexual activity and sexual satisfaction are considered of benefit to psychological health and wellbeing in older groups, the association between sexual interest and longevity has not been investigated. This study is the first to prospectively examine associations between sexual interest and all-cause mortality, and cardiovascular and cancer mortality in a community-based population,” the study authors write.
So, what’s going on with these findings? The researchers didn’t explicitly look to understand what’s driving the trend, they’re simply reporting that they’ve found a link between the two. That said, they do offer up some speculative explanations.
First of all, the researchers note that “male lack of interest may be related with unhealthy lifestyles.” It’s possible that men with low sex drive were feeling uninspired about affairs of the bedroom because they were also experiencing problems with their immune system, inflammation, and their neuroendocrine system, which also made them more vulnerable to disease. It's known that mental health conditions like depression can also impact peoples' libido and are associated with mortality.
If this is the case, however, it seems strange that the link wasn’t found with women too. Equally, this study only looked at people living in one prefecture of Japan, meaning that the conclusions might not necessarily apply to the rest of the globe.
Finally, it’s also worth considering how the study only involved approximately 200 LGBTQ+ people, which the researchers concede is not enough people to build any stronger conclusions from.
Bearing all of this in mind, the study still raises some interesting trends. The researchers write in their conclusion that perhaps health authorities explore the possibility of launching initiatives to advocate sexuality as a means to improve public health, just as other countries have.
“The Canadian government, through public health promotion materials, has begun to endorse sexual activity as one element of an 'aging well' agenda. In Japan, there is more prejudice about sex among the elderly than in the Western world. We hope our findings will help promote public health through advocating sexuality in Japan,” the study finishes.
The new study was published in the journal PLOS One.