In case you needed another reason to have some good old fashioned heterosexual intercourse (if you're into that kind of thing): a small new study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior suggests it could improve your memory, Broadly reports. After observing that "penile-vaginal intercourse" lead to positive brain changes in animal studies, McGill University researchers asked 78 straight women ages 18 to 29 how often they'd had penis-in-vagina intercourse, and then had them complete tasks that required them to memorize words and faces. The more sex women had, the better they did on the word task, though the results of the face memory test were unaffected. Women who weren't on the pill— but not those who were, for some reason — got an extra memory boost if they orgasmed during sex.
These results add to the previous animal studies, the researchers wrote. For example, a 2013 study of rodents published in Hippocampus found that sex spurs the growth of neurons in the hippocampus, a brain region crucial to memory. And the results in the new study support this theory (and its application to humans), since the hippocampus is largely responsible for memory of words, while remembering faces involves additional areas of the brain. As to why sex is so good for our brains, the authors think the most likely reason is that it might improve levels of various important hormones and neurotransmitters through the exercise it provides. Sex also releases dopamine, a reward-oriented hormone that promotes the development of new cells in the brain. Whatever the mechanism, the improved memory was probably due to the sex itself — not being in a relationship — because single women who had frequent sex saw the same benefit. A major limitation here is that the authors didn't investigate whether other types of sex, such as oral or manual stimulation between partners or sex between same-sex couples, had the same effect. The authors also noted that the sample was small, and factors such as the time of day of the memory tests and the fact that the data was based on self-reports of sexual frequency could have influenced the results as well. It could also be that people who have more sex are just happier in general, which can influence memory. More research is needed before we can say whether this type of sex truly improves memory and why. Nonetheless, no matter what kind you enjoy, sex is without a doubt a healthy activity. One recent study in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior found that women between 57 and 85 who have sex regularly have healthier blood pressure. For young women, sexual activity has been shown to improve self-confidence. Masturbation has been linked to better body image. Then, of course, there's the fact that sex is fun — if a possible memory boost gives you another excuse to feel good about getting it on, we won't argue with that.