A lack of sexual interest may indicate an increased risk of early death among men living in Japan, according to a newly published study.
The exact relationship between mortality and libido is something researchers need to pick apart, although researchers speculate that a reduced sex drive could be a more visible sign of subtle underlying health issues.
The data are from 20,969 people (8,558 males and 12,411 females) aged 40 and older who underwent annual health screenings over a six-year period in Yamagata Prefecture, a mountainous region of Japan known for its hot springs, temples and natural beauty .
A team of researchers from Yamagata University examined the level of the subjects’ 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 factors such as age, high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, alcohol consumption, BMI, education, marital status, frequency of laughter, and psychological distress were taken into account.
“Although sexual activity and sexual satisfaction are considered beneficial for mental health and well-being in older groups, the association between sexual interest and longevity has not been studied,” the researchers write.
“This study is the first to prospectively examine associations between sexual interest and all-cause, cardiovascular and cancer mortality in a community-based population.”
The study found that women were more likely than men to report a lack of sexual interest — 16 percent of the female participants in their sample did so, compared to 8 percent of the male volunteers — but it found no significant association between lower libido and mortality in women as in men.
Because this is a purely observational study, there is no way to conclude which, if any of the factors, is the cause and which is the effect.
It’s possible that a lack of sexual interest in men could be linked to “unhealthy lifestyles,” the researchers suggest.
“Furthermore, if we assume that sexual interest is associated with positive psychological factors,” they write, “lack of interest may affect a range of inflammatory, neuroendocrine, and immune responses.”
More research is needed to understand exactly what’s happening, but the mere uncovering of a possible link 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 by a single question on the baseline questionnaire: “Are you currently interested in people of the opposite sex?”
Even if everyone understands what this question is asking, it excludes those who are attracted to someone of the same sex, the researchers acknowledge.
“Any person who answered ‘no’ was defined as having a lack of sexual interest. Accordingly, 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 around 200 LGBTQ participants, and given the narrow questioning used in this study, there is reason to question at least some of this data. The authors of the study 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 was.
Nonetheless, maintaining sexual interest could have positive effects on longevity. Despite the study’s limitations, the researchers advocate raising awareness of sexual interest as a public health factor among older populations in Japan.
“The Canadian government has begun to support sexual activity as an element of a ‘aging well’ agenda through public health materials. In Japan, there is more prejudice against sex among older people than in the western world,” the study authors write.
“We hope our findings will help advance public health by advocating sexuality in Japan.”
The study was published in the journal Plus one.