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Older Americans Have Active Sex Lives

Sexually Active Older People Have Sex as Often as Younger People

Healthy Sex at Older Ages

The survey suggests that most people eventually will have to negotiate sexual problems as the age, says John H.J. Bancroft, MD, director emeritus and senior research fellow at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, Indiana University, Bloomington.

An editorial by Bancroft, the author of the landmark book Human Sexuality and Its Problems, accompanies the Lindau study in the Aug. 23 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

Bancroft says that relationships and mental health are more important predictors of sexual well-being than physical troubles with sexual arousal and sexual response.

"A key and fundamental issue is, when older men start to lose the ability for erections, how should they adapt to that? Obviously, this depends on the partner. So there is a need for negotiation," Bancroft tells WebMD.

One option is for the couple to shift the emphasis away from erections to sexual intimacy that does not require an erection. But this may be difficult for some people -- men in particular.

"We live in a very phallocentric society in which men grow up to focus on their erections as being all-important," Bancroft says. "Here is an important difference between men and women. What the penis is doing is much more central to the man's sexual experience than the woman's genitalia are to hers. She tends to focus on her feelings."

An informed doctor, Bancroft says, can help couples explore forms of sexual intimacy that do not always require a male erection.

"The approach to sex therapy that I and others use gets couples to work through stages: working with touch at first, and vaginal entry only at the later stages," he says. "And a lot can happen in those really early stages in terms of touching and feeling close and intimacy."

A second issue, Bancroft says, is that both men and women find it more difficult to reach orgasm as they age.

"What is desirable, and what I encourage any couple to do, is to look for ways to enjoy physical intimacy without having the same expectations they had when they were younger," he advises. "Much of the bonding effect of physical intimacy does not depend on sex. Indeed, intimacy can be enhanced for couples that can embrace changes rather than be threatened by them."

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