How Does Sexual Satisfaction Change in Older Age?

It’s a simple biological fact that, as we age, the odds of developing one or more sexual problems increases. But what exactly does this mean for the sexual satisfaction of older adults? Are they necessarily discontent with their sex lives? Study after study has found that there is a negative correlation between age and sexual satisfaction, such that the older people get, the less satisfied they report being [1,2]. However, if you dig a little further into the research, you will see that it would be a mistake to conclude that older adults are inherently unhappy in the bedroom.

For one thing, studies of middle-age and older adults reveal that a majority of them actually report being sexually satisfied. For example, in a nationally representative US sample of 1,384 older adults (mean age of 60 for men and 61 for women), average sexual satisfaction scores ranged from 3.6-3.8 on a five-point scale [3]. Given that the average was above the scale mid-point, this tells us that most participants were satisfied with their sex lives on balance. Similar results were obtained in a study of 1,009 heterosexual couples from five countries: Brazil, Germany, Japan, Spain, and the United States [4]. Overall, 64% of male participants (median age of 55) and 69% of female participants (median age of 52) reported being sexually satisfied.

More importantly, while average levels of sexual satisfaction do tend to decrease as people get older, it appears that this is largely a function of the fact that what makes sex satisfying changes considerably as we age. Specifically, when we are younger, our sexual satisfaction depends more on how often we are having sex (i.e., more sex = better sex); however, when we get older, quantity matters less and quality begins to matter more [1]. Put another way, older adults care more about the thought and effort that goes into sex than they do about how often they’re doing it. When researchers statistically account this different emphasis on quantity vs. quality, they see that the negative correlation between age and sexual satisfaction dissipates [1].

In short, these results suggest that it may be misguided to attempt simple, direct comparisons of sexual satisfaction scores for persons at different stages of the lifespan and draw conclusions. Getting older doesn’t necessarily mean that your sex life is going to get worse. Instead, the more likely outcome appears to be that your sexual priorities and preferences are likely to change.

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[1] Forbes, M.K., Eaton, N.R., & Krueger, R.F. (2016). Sexual quality of life and aging: A prospective study of a nationally representative sample. The Journal of Sex Research. DOI:10.1080/00224499.2016.1233315

[2] Laumann, E.O., Paik, A., Glasser, D.B., Kang, J.H., Wang, T., Levinson, B., ... & Gingell, C. (2006). A cross-national study of subjective sexual well-being among older women and men: Findings from the Global Study of Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 35(2), 143-159. DOI:10.1007/s10508-005-9005-3

[3] DeLamater, J., & Moorman, S.M. (2007). Sexual behavior in later life. Journal of Aging and Health, 19(6), 921-945.

[4] Heiman, J.R., Long, J.S., Smith, S.N., Fisher, W.A., Sand, M.S., & Rosen, R.C. (2011). Sexual satisfaction and relationship happiness in midlife and older couples in five countries. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40(4), 741-753. DOI:10.1007/s10508-010-9703-3

Image Source: 123RF.com/Cathy Yuelet

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