When it comes to certain parts of your reproductive ability, there might be some “use it or lose it” energy at play. A new study from University College London published in Royal Society Open Science found that women who reported engaging in sexual activities (whether that’s intercourse, sexual touching, oral sex, or masturbation) had a lower risk of entering early menopause than those who report less-frequent sex.
Looking at a data collected from 2,936 women, recruited as the baseline cohort for the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN) study in 1996/1997, researchers found that the women who reported weekly sexual activities were 28 percent less likely to have experienced menopause at any given age than their peers who had sex less than once a month.
The women surveyed, with a mean age of 45, were asked to answer questions about how frequently they engaged in sexual acts over the last six months — most people (64 percent) reported weekly sex. Though none had entered menopause as of the first round of questions, 46 percent reported being in early peri-menopause and 54 percent were pre-menopausal and interviews were carried out over a ten-year follow-up period.
“The findings of our study suggest that if a woman is not having sex, and there is no chance of pregnancy, then the body ‘chooses’ not to invest in ovulation, as it would be pointless,” PhD candidate Megan Arnot (UCL Anthropology) said in a press release. “There may be a biological energetic trade-off between investing energy into ovulation and investing elsewhere, such as keeping active by looking after grandchildren. The idea that women cease fertility in order to invest more time in their family is known as the Grandmother Hypothesis, which predicts that the menopause originally evolved in humans to reduce reproductive conflict between different generations of females, and allow women to increase their inclusive fitness through investing in their grandchildren.”
Basically, as researchers note, a body’s immune system is more susceptible to disease while ovulating. So, possibly, your body is choosing to re-allocate your energy and resources away from this more taxing process when its being signaled that the likelihood of pregnancy is down (because of the lack of sex).
“The menopause is, of course, an inevitability for women, and there is no behavioral intervention that will prevent reproductive cessation,” one of the study’s co-authors, Professor Ruth Mace (UCL Anthropology), said. “Nonetheless, these results are an initial indication that menopause timing may be adaptive in response to the likelihood of becoming pregnant.”