Older Americans Have Active Sex Lives
Sexually Active Older People Have Sex as Often as Younger People
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
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
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."
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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
- 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,"
- 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
- Half of all older people report at least one bothersome sexual
- 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
- 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