Sex Can Make You Smarter? Um, Not Exactly.

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lovemachine“Having sex on a regular basis could boost your brain power, new research suggests.”

It was the first—and quite provocative line—of a Daily Mail article that made the rounds earlier this month.  The headline screamed, “Having sex can make you BRAINIER—especially in the first flushes of love.”  Friends forwarded me the link—often with cute messages about their own sexual-cum-brain prowess.  One friend decided to take the article as a challenge. He proclaimed, “Soon I will be the smartest man ALIVE!  GAME ON!”

It’s a nice idea, isn’t it? That just by giving into our most base desires, we can give our brains a nice little boost.  Except that the article was more than a bit misleading.

First, the University of Pavia study cited is not exactly new—it was published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology in 2006 — at least, I think so, because the author never cites the study directly. Yet, this is the study in the literature that matches her description.

But more importantly, this study doesn’t say anything about smarts, intelligence or even sex. It simply marks the increase of a brain chemical called nerve growth factor (NGF) in people who claim to be newly in love. NGF is a neurotrophin. Some scientists refer to neurotrophins as “brain fertilizer” and it’s a pretty apt description. These chemicals help foster neuroplasticity in the brain, supporting neurons and helping to rewire synapses and brain circuits. The scientists conclude that “the behavioural and/or psychological features associated with falling in love could be related to raised NGF in the bloodstreams.” Perhaps that extra NGF helps cement a pair bond between two individuals—it would make sense.  But there’s no mention of sex in the mix. And these scientists are not saying some extra nookie is going to make you any smarter either.

As for the other studies cited in this article, sure, there’s been plenty of evidence that sex is good for you. But so is any physical exercise—and it’s hard to tease the two apart. And again, none of these studies provides direct evidence that increased orgasms influence intelligence.

So while I’m all for people having lots of good, healthy sex, increasing your nookie isn’t going to help mold you into a MENSA candidate. (But, hey, if this kind of thing inspires you to up your orgasms, it’s probably not going to do you any harm…)