Sex Question Friday: How Sexually Active Are Older Adults?

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Every Friday on the blog, I answer people’s questions about sex, love, and relationships. This week’s question comes from a reader who wanted to know more about what happens to our sex lives as we age.

Can you still have sex and enjoy it when you’re old?

Yes and yes. I know a lot of people who want to believe that their parents and grandparents stopped having sex a long time ago, but the reality is that they probably didn’t. Consider this: a recent national U.S. survey of adults aged 14-94 revealed that the majority of men (57.9%) and women (51.4%) in their 50s reported having vaginal intercourse in the last year, as did 53.5% of men and 42.2% of women in their 60s [1]. Vaginal intercourse was the single most common sexual activity among older adults, but it certainly wasn’t the only thing they were doing—many also reported giving or receiving oral sex or engaging in mutual masturbation, and some reported practicing anal sex. These activities were not restricted to heterosexual marriages either. Indeed, some older adults are involved in same-sex relationships, and many are having casual sex. As you can see, the sex lives of older adults can be just as diverse as those of younger folks.

This survey also revealed that many adults in their 70s and beyond were sexually active too, with 42.9% of men and 21.6% of women aged 70+ reporting vaginal intercourse in the last year (oral sex was the second most common activity, but far fewer reported it). As you can see, there’s no definitive endpoint to being sexually active.

Of course, sexual difficulties are more likely to arise as we age, including erectile dysfunction in men and vaginal lubrication difficulties in women. Overall levels of sexual desire may decrease as well, corresponding with changes in our hormones. In addition, chronic illnesses and other health problems can make certain sex acts challenging or painful to perform. However, this should not be taken to mean that older adults can no longer find sexual satisfaction. For example, in a recent survey of over 1,300 older women (average age of 67), two-thirds of those who were sexually active reported being at least moderately satisfied with their sex lives [2]. Believe it or not, women over 80 had among the highest levels of satisfaction in the sample. 

In short, although we do tend to encounter more sexual problems as we age, many older adults continue to maintain active and satisfying sex lives.

For previous editions of Sex Question Friday, click here. To send in a question for a future edition, click here.

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[1] Herbenick, D., Reece, M., Schick, V., Sanders, S. A., Dodge, B., & Fortenberry, J. D. (2010). Sexual behavior in the United States: Results from a national probability sample of men and women ages 14–94. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 7(s5), 255-265.

[2] Trompeter, S. E., Bettencourt, R., & Barrett-Connor, E. (2012). Sexual activity and satisfaction in healthy community-dwelling older women. The American Journal of Medicine, 125, 37-43.

Image Source: iStockphoto.com

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