Lack of sexual interest may indicate a higher risk of premature death among men living in Japan, according to a recently published study.
The exact relationship between mortality and libido is something researchers will need to figure out, though researchers speculate that reduced sex drive could be a more visible sign of subtle underlying health problems.
The data came from 20,969 people (8,558 men and 12,411 women) aged 40 and over who underwent annual health checks over a six-year period in Yamagata Prefecture, a mountainous region of Japan famous for its hot springs. hot springs, temples and natural beauty.
A team of researchers from Yamagata University analyzed the subjects’ self-reported levels of sexual interest in an initial questionnaire and in a follow-up survey conducted years later. Of the original 20,969 subjects, 503 had died by this time.
The researchers found that cancer mortality and all-cause mortality were significantly higher for men who reported a lack of sexual interest.
That association held even when they controlled for factors such as age, high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, alcohol use, BMI, education, marital status, laughter frequency, and psychological distress.
“Although sexual activity and sexual satisfaction are considered beneficial for psychological health and well-being in older age groups, the association between sexual interest and longevity has not been investigated,” the researchers write.
“This study is the first to prospectively examine the associations between sexual interest and all-cause mortality, cardiovascular and cancer mortality in a community population.”
The study found that women were more likely to report a lack of sexual interest than men: 16% of the female participants in their sample did, compared with 8% of the male volunteers, but found no significant association. between lower libido and mortality. in women as in men.
Being a purely observational study, there is no way to conclude which, if any, of the factors is the cause and which is the effect.
Lack of sexual interest among men may be related to “unhealthy lifestyles,” the scientists suggest.
“Furthermore, assuming that sexual interest is related to positive psychological factors,” they write, “absence of interest may affect a variety of inflammatory, neuroendocrine, and immune responses.”
More research will be needed to understand what exactly is going on, but simply revealing a potential connection like this is an important step, the researchers add.
There are also some important caveats to keep in mind in the study. A person’s lack of sexual interest was determined from a single question on the baseline questionnaire: “Do you currently have any interest in people of the opposite sex?”
Even if everyone understands what that question is asking, it excludes those who are attracted to someone of the same sex, as the researchers acknowledge.
“Anyone who answered ‘no’ was defined as having no sexual interest. Consequently, sexual interest in someone of the same sex would be considered ‘lack of sexual interest’ in this study,” they write.
The researchers estimate that their sample may have included approximately 200 LGBTQ participants, and because of the limited question used in this study, there is reason to doubt at least some of that data. The study authors call for future research to take this into account.
The new study also did not adjust for certain “medically relevant elements known to affect sexual function and longevity,” the authors write, such as neurological conditions or medications the subjects were taking, since that was not part of the survey. reference.
However, maintaining sexual interest could have positive effects on longevity. Despite the limitations of the study, the researchers argue in favor of raising awareness of sexual interest as a public health factor among older populations in Japan.
“The Canadian government, through public health promotion materials, has begun to endorse sexual activity as an element of the ‘aging well’ agenda. In Japan, there is more prejudice about sex among the elderly than in the Western world,” say the study authors. writes.
“We hope that our findings will help promote public health by advocating for sexuality in Japan.”
The study was published in the journal plus one.
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