A healthy lifestyle predicts heightened sexual satisfaction nine years later

Eric W. Dolan
8 Min Read
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New research published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine has found that engaging in healthy behaviors is linked to an improvement in sexual satisfaction among working-age men and women over a nine-year period. This study, carried out in Finland, suggests that maintaining a healthy lifestyle could not only benefit your overall health but also enhance the quality of your sex life.

Sexual satisfaction is a significant aspect of our well-being, influencing self-esteem, relationships, and even fertility. Despite its importance, long-term strategies to improve sexual satisfaction are not well understood. Previous studies have offered conflicting views on how personal habits and characteristics correlate with sexual fulfillment.

While sexual dysfunction has been associated with lifestyle-related diseases, there has been a gap in research regarding the longitudinal impact of health behaviors on sexual satisfaction. This study aims to fill that gap, investigating the long-term relationship between healthy living and sexual contentment.

“This is a continuation of my previous work on studying how a healthy lifestyle can affect happiness,” explained study author Säde Stenlund, a physician and postdoctoral researcher at the University of British Columbia. “My primary motivation is to discover ways to motivate and support individuals in adopting healthy behaviors. Likewise to happiness, sexual satisfaction is a desirable goal for an individual. Therefore, improvements in sexual satisfaction and happiness can be a better motivator than the prevention of future health problems for engaging in healthy behavior.”

“In addition, positive sexual health has gained limited attention in the domain of public health, probably due to being to an extent a taboo subject and gaining attention mainly through problems and risky behaviors. However, I see a positive sex life and satisfaction with it as important components of a person’s well-being. Therefore, its positive dimensions are worth studying in contrast to only focusing on problems with sexual health.”

For their new study, the researchers analyzed data from a longitudinal study known as the Health and Social Support (HeSSup) study. This study was initially set in motion in 1998, targeting the Finnish working-age population, with subsequent follow-ups in 2003 and 2012 that specifically focused on the intersection of health behaviors and sexual satisfaction.

The participant pool for this particular investigation consisted of 10,671 individuals who had responded to the 2003 and 2012 surveys. The participants completed assessments of four major health behaviors: exercise, diet, alcohol consumption, and smoking. Each participant’s adherence to these healthy behaviors was scored, creating a Health Behavior Sum Score (HBSS) ranging from 0 to 4.

To gauge satisfaction with sex life, the study employed a 7-point Likert scale, asking participants to rate their level of satisfaction in both the 2003 and 2012 surveys. Alongside these primary measures, the researchers also accounted for several potential confounders and covariates, including the participant’s age, gender, education level, living status, chronic health conditions, and the personal importance they placed on their sex life.

The study uncovered some unexpected findings regarding sexual satisfaction. In particular, Stenlund was surprised to find that sexual satisfaction declined in all subgroups except for those not in a couple relationship at the start, although these individuals still reported lower overall satisfaction at the follow-up compared to those in couple relationships.

“It was also a bit surprising that the older groups showed less deterioration than the younger groups in their satisfaction with their sex life,” she said. “This could, however, be explained by the more rapid increase in demands in life when moving into middle-age compared to changes later in life.”

Importantly, the researchers discovered that individuals who engaged in healthier behaviors reported modestly better satisfaction with their sex lives. Specifically, those who consistently practiced all four health behaviors retained, on average, a 0.2 point higher sexual satisfaction score compared to those who did not. This suggests that adhering to these four health behaviors serves as a buffer against the general trend of declining sexual satisfaction over time.

“The finding that good health behavior can support sexual satisfaction in the long term, as well as enhance happiness, may boost motivation for engaging in or maintaining good health behaviors, especially when the prospect of changing or sustaining such behaviors seems unappealing,” Stenlund told PsyPost.

“Many of us are aware of what constitutes beneficial health behavior, yet unhealthy behaviors remain prevalent. The current study, along with a body of other research, highlights several outcomes of healthy behavior that might feel appealing to individuals.”

When examining the role of individual health behaviors in influencing sexual satisfaction, alcohol consumption emerged as having a significant direct impact on sexual satisfaction. This suggests that moderation in alcohol consumption may be particularly influential. It’s important to note, however, that this finding does not diminish the value of the other health behaviors.

The study, like all research, has some limitations. The findings are based on self-reported data, which may introduce bias. While the findings are broadly applicable to the Finnish working-age population, cultural differences may limit the generalizability to other contexts.

“The results are not very strong, but are still significant in describing trends in a population,” Stenlund explained. “Also, although this is a population-based sample that has been evaluated to be representative enough of the general population, there is less representation of the disadvantaged.”

“In the long-term, I hope that research will strengthen the idea that happiness and also sexual satisfaction do have innate value and importance through their downstream health benefits,” the researcher added. “Therefore, they should be considered more in public health interventions and messaging. Then activities that ‘feel good’ would not be a waste of time or of less importance than other activities we engage with, but in fact an important part of our well-being and thus of importance for societal public health.”

The study, “A healthy lifestyle can support future sexual satisfaction: results from a 9-year longitudinal survey,” was authored by Säde Stenlund, Lauri Sillanmäki, Heli Koivumaa-Honkanen, Päivi Rautava, Hanna Lagström, and Sakari Suominen.