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
"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
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."