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Sexual Activity Very, Very Spuriously Linked With Telomere Length


Jonathan O'Callaghan

Senior Staff Writer


Telomeres are often linked to greater health or longer life. nd3000/Shutterstock

Let's all say it together now: Correlation does not imply causation.

Okay, that’s out of the way. Let’s begin.


A study has found a very tenuous link between sexual activity and the length of your telomeres. These are the protective caps on our DNA, which are often linked to greater health or longer life.

The study was published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, and led by scientists from the University of California, San Francisco.

It looked at just 129 “high and low stress mothers”, which is immediately a big red flag as that’s an incredible small study. Telomere length was examined in the blood and two cell subpopulations across a week, and the women were also asked to say how often they had been sexually active.

“Telomerase activity was measured in PBMCs [Peripheral Blood Mononuclear Cells],” the authors write. “Analyses revealed no statistically significant associations of telomere length with current relationship satisfaction, daily support or conflict, or perceived stress.


“In contrast, women who reported any sexual intimacy during the course of the week had significantly longer telomeres.”

So in other words, yes, more sexual intimacy was linked to longer telomeres. This was true for participants of varying age, body mass index, stress, and more.

However, while there may well be a link between them (the study is far too small to definitively suggest that), there is really no conclusion that can be drawn. It could simply be that people who are healthier tend to have more sex.

“Our findings, although important, were largely exploratory,” lead researcher Tomás Cabeza de Baca told PsyPost. “Our results were amassed from a small cross-sectional sample of 129 partnered women who were either caregivers to a child with autism or to a neuro-typical child.”


They note that there are therefore three major caveats. First, causation cannot be inferred. Second, these results can only be generalized for partnered mothers in long-term relationships. And third, as mentioned, healthy women may simply be more likely to be sexually active.

So the only conclusion we can really draw right now is that – drum roll please – more research is needed. Apologies for the anti-climax.

(H/T: PsyPost)


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