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Older Americans Have Active Sex Lives

Sexually Active Older People Have Sex as Often as Younger People
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 22, 2007 -- Though half report bothersome sexual problems, sexually active Americans aged 57-85 have sex as often as those aged 18-59.

The findings come from a nationally representative sample of 3,005 U.S. residents. They show that sexual intimacy remains an important part of most people's lives as they age, says researcher Stacy Tessler Lindau, MD, of the University of Chicago.

"Many older and younger men and women make the choice not to be sexually active. But the majority of people, young and old, do engage in sexuality," Lindau said at a news conference.

How sexually active are older Americans?

"An interesting finding is among those sexually active, the frequency we saw of sex two or three times a month or more is not different from 18- to 59-year-olds," Lindau said. "So if one has a partner, the frequency of sex does not change a lot between age groups."

It is people's health -- not their age -- that ultimately limits their sexual activity, says researcher Edward O. Laumann, PhD, of the University of Chicago.

Sexual inactivity is "much more a consequence of health than otherwise," Laumann said at the news conference. "When sexual health begins to deteriorate, it is an important warning sign of more profound health problems."

Inevitably, aging people do reach a point at which sex becomes increasingly rare, says researcher Linda J. Waite, PhD, of the University of Chicago.

"The one thing that surprised me was that among the oldest adults with sex partners, only a minority reported being sexually active," Waite said at the news conference. "There seems to be a point in people's lives when their health declines. They become frail, and -- although still partnered -- they are not having any kind of sexual activity. That is an important part of the picture of sexuality in older ages."

(How has sex changed in your life as you age? Share your experiences on WebMD's Active Aging: Support Group message board.)

Sex After 60: Key Findings

During the survey, trained researchers interviewed subjects, administered questionnaires asking intimate questions, and obtained medical data including blood, saliva, and vaginal swab samples.

The survey unearthed what Lindau calls "a gold mine" of data on the sexuality of Americans aged 57-85. Some key facts:

  • People in "very good" or "excellent" health were far more likely to be sexually active than those in "fair" or "poor" health: 79% more likely for men, and 64% more likely for women.
  • At any age, women were less likely than men to have an intimate partner. This disparity "increased dramatically with age," the researchers found.
  • Few older people not in a relationship are sexually active: only 22% of men and only 4% of women.
  • 54% of sexually active older people have sex at least two to three times a month. Twenty-three percent report sex once a week or more.
  • Oral sex is reported by 58% of sexually active people aged 57-64 and by 31% of those aged 75-85.
  • Masturbation is reported by 52% of men and 25% of women in an intimate relationship and by 55% of men and 23% of women not in relationships. "This suggests older adults have a drive or a need for sexual fulfillment," Lindau says.
  • Sex is "not at all important" for 35% of older women, but only 13% of older men. "Women say, 'On the one hand I am not now interested in sex, but if I met the right kind of partner, maybe I would consider it,'" Lindau says.
  • Half of all older people report at least one bothersome sexual problem.
  • The most common sexual problems for men are erection difficulty (37%), lack of interest in sex (28%), climaxing too quickly (28%), performance anxiety (27%), and inability to climax (20%).
  • The most common sexual problems for women are lack of interest in sex (43%), difficulty with lubrication (39%), inability to climax (34%), finding sex not pleasurable (23%), and pain (17%).
  • The most common reason for not having sex was the male partner's physical health.
  • Even though most older people report some sexual problems, only 38% of men and 22% of women 50 years or older ever discuss sex with their doctors.

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