The chapter on sex (affairs of the bedroom) in my recent book Live Well Live Long was probably the toughest to write. First of all, any writing about sex presents challenges. In the UK we have the infamous ‘bad sex awards’ for passages in fiction that make everyone curl up with either laughter or embarrassment. But more importantly, it is one (almost the only) area where traditional Chinese teachings and the modern medical view diverge strongly.
The general opinion among modern sexologists is simple – sex is good, have as much of it as you can, and there is no significant limit to male ejaculation.
And superficially at least, a lot of sex research seems to back this up, linking more frequent sex in men to reduced risk of various diseases. I say superficially because the Chinese view raises major questions about this research. Since a vigorous libido derives from strong constitutional jing essence, and since strong constitutional jing essence is the basis of lifelong good health, the simple cause and effect relationship (‘more sex is the cause of better health’) is undermined.
The traditional warnings about excessive sex (specifically ejaculation) in men are most stern when it comes to older men. If you listen to the 7th century Sun Simiao, you might as well give up after the age of 60. And today new research has appeared which seems to back up Sun’s view. It appears that men in their late 50s up to their 80s who enjoy frequent sex are at much greater risk of heart problems (double the risk of heart attack, stroke etc. for having sex once a week or more). The theory is that men exhaust themselves trying to achieve orgasm.
But – and this is galling for men – women showed no equivalent effect, indeed those older women who enjoyed sex more had lower levels of blood pressure.
A single piece of research does not provide robust evidence and as we have seen research can be interpreted in different ways but one conclusion of course is that for safety all round, older women should enjoy sex with younger men.