When You Stop Having Sex, This Is What Happens To Your Memory

Exercise doesn't always come in the form of jogging, swimming, or weight lifting; rather, a little time spent between the sheets with your partner can also serve as a satisfying workout. During sex, the muscles, tendons, and joints put in the reps, which some research suggests may benefit heart health in certain populations (via the Journal of Health and Social Behavior). Sex may also support mental health by protecting against anxiety and depression, according to 2021 research published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine.

In addition to promoting physical and mental health, there's evidence to suggest that sex may also boost cognition, specifically memory recall (via a 2018 study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior). That being said, people express intimacy and experience sexual pleasure in all kinds of different ways, and not all of them involve intercourse. Abstaining from sex is a deeply personal choice that should not be met with shame or stigma. From a physiological standpoint, however, this left us with one burning question: if we stop having sex, does that mean these cognitive benefits begin to slip away?

Research shows a link between a lack of sex and memory decline

In a 2013 rat study published in the scientific journal Hippocampus, researchers found that sexual activity boosted neuron generation in areas of the brain associated with memory and cognition. This was true whether the animals underwent sexual exposure once or multiple times. In the long run, continuous sexual exposure was found to enhance cognition. When sexual activity was withdrawn from the animals for a period of time, however, this cognitive enhancement decreased.

How satisfied you are with your sex life may also play a role in cognition as you age. Researchers from a 2023 longitudinal study published in The Gerontologist assessed the erectile function and sexual satisfaction of 818 middle-age and older men. Lower levels of both erectile function and sexual satisfaction were found to be linked with future memory decline. "These associations survived adjustment for demographic and health factors, which tells us there is a clear connection between our sex lives and our cognition," co-lead author Riki Slayday stated in a Penn State press release. "Improvements in sexual satisfaction may actually spark improvement in memory function," co-author Martin Sliwinski added.

Having sex more frequently may boost long-term memory

Researchers from the previously mentioned 2018 study set out to determine whether sexual activity along with emotional closeness had an impact on cognitive decline in over 6,000 older adults at least 50 years of age. In addition to answering survey questions, participants also completed a task assessing their long-term memory. Two years later, they were given the same task again. The research findings showed that adults who had sex more often and experienced greater emotional closeness during sexual activity performed better on the long-term memory test.

Of course, misplacing your keys or forgetting about a scheduled appointment isn't always tied to your sex life. But for people interested in seeing for themselves whether the two may be related, it may be worth trying out ways to increase satisfaction or emotional connection during sex. In a 2019 study published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, researchers found that practicing mindfulness during sex enhanced both relationship and sex life satisfaction among middle-aged men and women. Sexual mindfulness involves the practice of staying present and attentive to sex-specific sensations such as breathing or physical touch, as well as remaining judgment-free of both yourself and your partner.