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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Can Good Sex Keep You Young?

Sex and Seniors

Although it may gross out 20-year-olds to hear it (especially about their parents), older people do continue to have sex, according to the MacArthur Foundation report "Successful Aging" by John W. Rowe, MD, and Robert L. Kahn, PhD. They cite a Duke University study published in the November 1974 Journal of the American Geriatrics Society that found that "at age 68, about 70% of men were sexually active on a regular basis" but that this number dropped to 25% by age 78.

A more recent study, published in the January 1990 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, reported that nearly 74% of married men over 60 remain sexually active, as do 56% of married women. And an April 1988 study on "Sexual Interest and Behavior in Healthy 80 to 102-year-olds" published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that 63% of men and 30% of women were still having sexual intercourse. "Given that by the age of 80 or older there are 39 men for every 100 women, lack of oppportunity may well account for a large portion of such gender differences," says Cindy M. Meston, PhD, in her paper on "Aging and Sexuality," published in the October 1997 issue of the Western Journal of Medicine.

While men may experience a gradual decline in sexual libido as their testosterone levels slowly diminish, women experience a wider range of effects as a result of the more complex hormonal changes that occur with menopause. Some, like Eileen Smith, 70, a nurse in Laguna Beach, Calif., experience no decrease in sexual desire through the years, although she attributes that to the fact that she began hormone replacement therapy at the first sign of hot flashes. "In my own case, intensity of desire was not tied to menopause," she says, "but rather to the quality of the relationships I was having at different times in my life." The mother of two and grandmother of four, she said that years after her divorce, when she was "crazy in love" at age 60, she experienced sexuality "as hot as ever."

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