A lack of sexual interest may indicate an increased 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 untangle, although researchers believe that reduced libido may be a more visible sign of subtle underlying health issues.
The data came from 20,969 people (8,558 men and 12,411 women) aged 40 or older who had annual health checkups over a six-year period in Yamagata Prefecture, a mountainous region of Japan famous for its springs. hot springs, its temples and its natural beauty.
A team of researchers from Yamagata University examined subjects’ levels of sexual interest as self-reported 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 in men who reported a lack of sexual interest.
This association held even when they controlled for factors such as age, hypertension, diabetes, smoking, alcohol consumption, BMI, education, marital status, frequency of laughter. 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 studied,” write the authors. researchers.
“This study is the first to prospectively examine associations between sexual interest and all-cause mortality, and 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 female participants in their sample did, compared to 8% of male volunteers – but it found no difference. significant association between low libido and mortality. in both women and men.
Being a purely observational study, there is no way to conclude which – if either factor – is the cause and what is the effect.
It’s possible that men’s lack of sexual interest is linked to “unhealthy lifestyles”, the scientists suggest.
“Furthermore, if we assume that sexual interest is linked to positive psychological factors,” they write, “lack of interest may affect a range of inflammatory, neuroendocrine, and immune responses.”
More research will be needed to understand what exactly is going on, but just uncovering a potential connection like this is an important step, the researchers add.
There are also some important caveats to note in the study. A person’s lack of sexual interest was determined from a single question on the initial baseline questionnaire: “Do you currently have an interest in people of the opposite sex?”
Even though everyone understands what this question asks, it excludes those who are attracted to someone of the same sex, as the researchers acknowledge.
“Anyone who answered ‘no’ was defined as sexually uninteresting. Accordingly, sexual interest in someone of the same sex would be considered ‘sexually uninteresting’ in this study,” they write. they.
The researchers estimate that their sample may have included around 200 LGBTQ participants, and because of the narrow question used in this study, there is therefore reason to doubt at least some of this data. The study authors call for future research to take this into account.
The new study also did not adjust for certain “medically relevant items known to affect sexual function and longevity,” the authors write, such as neurological disorders or medications the subjects were taking, as these were not part of the baseline survey.
Nevertheless, maintaining sexual interest could have positive effects on longevity. Despite the limitations of the study, the researchers argue for 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 part of an ‘aging well’ program. In Japan, there is more gender bias in the elderly than in the Western world,” the study authors said. write.
“We hope our findings will help promote public health by advocating for sexuality in Japan.”
The study was published in the journal PLOS A.
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