Sex on the Brain

By Roberta Russell

The stresses of aging are ongoing and cumulative. Inflammation rises, weakening our resistance to disease. Brain cells diminish, requiring increased effort to remember the names and details that we once took for granted. Muscle strength and balance decline. Loved ones die and depart. Without compensatory efforts, isolation and loss of competence can cause problems. We become increasingly fragile. In time, the grim reaper claims us, one and all. 

ROBERTA RUSSELL. Photo: Cheryl Eisen.

But take heed. There is a joyous note in at least one redemptive prescription. You can slow down aging by having sex in a way that promotes genuine closeness—particularly, without a condom. You can live longer, have more satisfaction, and, miraculously, get smarter.

Research now reveals that the brain has neuronal regenerative powers. It is not limited to the neurons you are born with, as was previously assumed. It renews itself even into one’s nineties. Sex with a loved one has been shown to regenerate brain cells. Professor James Goodwin illuminates this process, and presents practical advice on how to optimize our brain’s performance and halt the depressing toll of cognitive decline during aging in his book, Supercharge Your Brain (2021), which offers a unique, multifaceted, evidence-backed perspective on how to foster a healthier and longer life. As an evolutionary biologist and historian of brain science, Dr. Goodwin presents research-based evidence for the eye-opening health benefits of high-minded purposeful behavior, and sex with real intimacy. Surprisingly, sex without a condom confers even more regenerative benefits than sex with one. (No pun intended.) The touch, feel, and flow of a loving partner is a life-enhancing elixir. The brain is an erogenous zone.

Intimacy is one of life’s greatest challenges. There is the risk of being emotionally hurt as you expose your vulnerabilities to another person, but without the courage to overcome your probable mutual anxiety, the full health benefits of meaningful sex and the thrill of real intimacy are not achieved. 

As a cautionary note, be aware that sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise in nursing homes, where sex without condoms is common and resistance to infection is low. In these times of on-line-dating it is prudent to get to know one’s partner’s exposure before taking the plunge, no matter what age you are. Studies have shown that feelings of love and belonging matter even more than frequency of sex, as long as it is regular.

There are many behaviors that can slow aging. According to Goodwin, who is also a founding member of the Global Council on Brain Health and chair at both Exeter University Medical School and Loughborough University, exercise is the most important way to change your lifestyle to increase your healthy, creative, active lifespan. Sitting too much is harmful. 

Next in importance is a diverse diet with many different fruits and vegetables and enough small portions of meat to prevent deficiencies in vitamins B12 and D3.

Gut bugs influence our brains. Ninety percent of mood-affecting serotonin is produced in our gut. Consequently, Goodwin advises that we go with our gut, by eating a wide variety of nutritious fruits and vegetables. Gut bacteria are suspects in many illnesses including ALS, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease. Attention to gut bugs is paramount as they affect our well-being for better or for worse. The goal is to use what we learn to be able to intervene in the aging process. 

An American version of Professor Goodwin’s Supercharge Your Brain will be published by Pegasus in January, 2022, and online and audio versions will be available as well.

Roberta Russell is the author of R.D. Laing & Me: Lessons in Love with R.D. Laing, (Hillgarth Press, 1992), Report on Effective Psychotherapy: Legislative Testimony (Hillgarth Press, 1981, 1994), and Report on Permanent Weight Loss (Columbia Academic Commons, 2017). She has also been a contributor to various international magazines and journals including: Psychologie Heute (Germany), Japan Times (Japan), The Psychologist (U.K.), Human Potential Magazine (U.K.), Changes (U.K.), Clinical Psychology Forum (U.K.), Psychoanalytic Studies (U.K.), and Bottom Line (USA). Occasionally, Roberta hosts a New York City cable television show, called Lifetalk, which has featured interviews with movers and shakers in controversial areas of psychology, weight loss, nutrition, medicine, the environment, and population growth.

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