Frequency of Penile–Vaginal Intercourse is Associated with Verbal Recognition Performance in Adult Women
Previous studies have identified a number of factors that contribute to improved cognitive function, and to memory function specifically, in cognitively normal individuals. One such factor, frequency of penile–vaginal intercourse (PVI), has been reported in a number of animal studies to be advantageous to memory for previously presented objects by increasing neurogenesis in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus. However, studies investigating the potential benefits of frequent PVI on memory function in young women are to the best of our knowledge absent from the literature. The current study thus investigated whether the self-reported frequency of sexual intercourse was related to memory function in healthy female college students. To determine whether variation in PVI would be associated with memory performance, we asked 78 heterosexual women aged 18–29 years to complete a computerized memory paradigm consisting of abstract words and neutral faces. Results showed that frequency of PVI was positively associated with memory scores for abstract words, but not faces. Because memory for words depends to a large extent on the hippocampus, whereas memory for faces may rely to a greater extent on surrounding extra-hippocampal structures, our results appear to be specific for memory believed to rely on hippocampal function. This may suggest that neurogenesis in the hippocampus is higher in those women with a higher frequency of PVI, in line with previous animal research. Taken together, these results suggest that PVI may indeed have beneficial effects on memory function in healthy young women.
KeywordsPenile–vaginal intercourse Memory Hippocampus Dentate gyrus
We would like to thank Anjali Cera and Kira Riehm for their help in testing participants throughout the study.
This study was funded by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Discovery Grant (249996) to Jens C. Pruessner. Dorothee Schoemaker was supported by a FRQS doctoral stipend.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
- Clelland, C., Choi, M., Romberg, C., Clemenson, G., Fragniere, A., Tyers, P., … Gage, F. (2009). A functional role for adult hippocampal neurogenesis in spatial pattern separation. Science, 325, 210–213.Google Scholar
- Erickson, K. I., Prakash, R. S., Voss, M. W., Chaddock, L., Hu, L., Morris, K. S., … Kramer, A. F. (2009). Aerobic fitness is associated with hippocampal volume in elderly humans. Hippocampus, 19, 1030–1039.Google Scholar
- Ernst, A., Alkass, K., Bernard, S., Salehpour, M., Perl, S., Tisdale, J., … Frisén, J. (2014). Neurogenesis in the striatum of the adult human brain. Cell, 156, 1072–1083.Google Scholar
- Fernández, G., Weyerts, H., Schrader-Bölsche, M., Tendolkar, I., Smid, H. G., Tempelmann, C., … Mangun, G. R. (1998). Successful verbal encoding into episodic memory engages the posterior hippocampus: A parametrically analyzed functional magnetic resonance imaging study. Journal of Neuroscience, 18, 1841–1847.Google Scholar
- Goshen, I., Kreisel, T., Ben-Menachem-Zidon, O., Licht, T., Weidenfeld, J., Ben-Hur, T., & Yirmiya, R. (2008). Brain interleukin-1 mediates chronic stress-induced depression in mice via adrenocortical activation and hippocampal neurogenesis suppression. Molecular Psychiatry, 13, 717–728.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Hawken, P. A., Jorre, T. J. S., Rodger, J., Esmaili, T., Blache, D., & Martin, G. B. (2009). Rapid induction of cell proliferation in the adult female ungulate brain (Ovis aries) associated with activation of the reproductive axis by exposure to unfamiliar males. Biology of Reproduction, 80, 1146–1151.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Hurlbert, D. F., & Whittaker, K. E. (1991). The role of masturbation in marital and sexual satisfaction: A comparative study of female masturbators and nonmasturbators. Journal of Sex Education and Therapy, 17, 272–282.Google Scholar
- Jessberger, S., Clark, R. E., Broadbent, N. J., Clemenson, G. D., Consiglio, A., Lie, D. C., … Gage, F. H. (2009). Dentate gyrus-specific knockdown of adult neurogenesis impairs spatial and object recognition memory in adult rats. Learning & Memory, 16, 147–154.Google Scholar
- Kashdan, T. B., Adams, L. M., Farmer, A. S., Ferssizidis, P., McKnight, P. E., & Nezlek, J. B. (2014). Sexual healing: Daily diary investigation of the benefits of intimate and pleasurable sexual activity in socially anxious adults. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 43, 1417–1429.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Kim, J.-I., Lee, J. W., Lee, Y. A., Lee, D.-H., Han, N. S., Choi, Y.-K., … Han, J. S. (2013). Sexual activity counteracts the suppressive effects of chronic stress on adult hippocampal neurogenesis and recognition memory. Brain Research, 1538, 26–40.Google Scholar
- Laumann, E. O., Paik, A., Glasser, D. B., Kang, J.-H., Wang, T., Levinson, B., … Gingell, C. (2006). A cross-national study of subjective sexual well-being among older women and men: Findings from the Global Study of Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 35, 143–159.Google Scholar
- Manganas, L. N., Zhang, X., Li, Y., Hazel, R. D., Smith, S. D., Wagshul, M. E., … Enikolopov, G. (2007). Magnetic resonance spectroscopy identifies neural progenitor cells in the live human brain. Science, 318, 980–985.Google Scholar
- Nakashiba, T., Cushman, J. D., Pelkey, K. A., Renaudineau, S., Buhl, D. L., McHugh, T. J., … McBain, C. J. (2012). Young dentate granule cells mediate pattern separation, whereas old granule cells facilitate pattern completion. Cell, 149, 188–201.Google Scholar
- Pereira, A. C., Huddleston, D. E., Brickman, A. M., Sosunov, A. A., Hen, R., McKhann, G. M., … Small, S. A. (2007). An in vivo correlate of exercise-induced neurogenesis in the adult dentate gyrus. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104, 5638–5643.Google Scholar
- Sahay, A., Scobie, K. N., Hill, A. S., O’’arroll, C. M., Kheirbek, M. A., Burghardt, N. S., … Hen, R. (2011). Increasing adult hippocampal neurogenesis is sufficient to improve pattern separation. Nature, 472, 466–470.Google Scholar
- Spalding, K. L., Bergmann, O., Alkass, K., Bernard, S., Salehpour, M., Huttner, H. B., … Buchholz, B. A. (2013). Dynamics of hippocampal neurogenesis in adult humans. Cell, 153, 1219–1227.Google Scholar
- Takamura, N., Nakagawa, S., Masuda, T., Boku, S., Kato, A., Song, N., … Koyama, T. (2014). The effect of dopamine on adult hippocampal neurogenesis. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, 50, 116–124.Google Scholar
- Wakerley, J., Clarke, G., & Summerlee, A. (2006). Milk ejection and its control. In E. Knobil & J. Neill (Eds.), The physiology of reproduction (3rd ed., Vol. 2, pp. 3129–3190). New York: Raven Press.Google Scholar