Vitality

Seniors Have Sex, Too: People In Their 70s And 80s Far More Sexually Active Than Once Thought

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Who knew the old folks' home was such a sex den? Reuters

If you’re not already depressed by how little action you’ve been getting lately, then you probably won’t feel any better learning that people in their 70s and 80s are still sexually active a lot of the time. A new study finds up to 54 percent of men and 31 percent of women report having sex at least twice a month.

As horrifying as the thought of your grandparents having sex might be, the truth is they’re still people. Medical science is extending the human shelf life, which means people aren’t spending their twilight years hunched over a bowl of porridge — they’re actually living. And when their health permits, they can sometimes be found — but hopefully left alone — having sex. Researchers behind the study say doctors should consider this lifestyle trend in how they treat older patients.

“I think from our point of view it suggests to the health professionals not to just assume that they would necessarily be sexually inactive,” said David Lee, Age UK research fellow and lead author of the study, to Medical Daily. “There may be a health care need in terms of extending, and not just ignoring, people’s sexual health and well-being.”

A total of 6,201 people between 50 and 90 years old responded to survey questions about their level of sexual activity. As expected, people had less sex as they got older — a mix of waning health in men, who struggled to achieve an erection roughly 39 percent of the time, and a lacking sex drive (32 percent) and inability to reach orgasm (27 percent) in women. However, what levels the researchers did learn about ended up surprising them.

Men, on average, cared more about their sexual performance than women did and also reported greater dissatisfaction with their sex lives than women. As women aged, their dissatisfaction rates actually tended to decrease. The sex may have actually gotten better for them, Lee says; however, he also points out it may have just gotten less important.

Affection, perhaps unsurprisingly, stayed consistent in old age. Roughly 31 percent of men and 20 percent of women reported kissing and petting on a regular basis. (Aren’t old couples the cutest?) But mild public displays of affection are where our assumptions about intimacy usually end. Lee and his colleagues suspect this not only leads the rest of us down an ageist path, but could compel doctors to ignore certain diagnostic questions that may be relevant to seniors’ health.

“Some of that may be feeling it’s inappropriate for a younger practitioner to bring this up to an older person,” Lee said, adding that there may be a big upside to weaving in sexual activity data into the existing information physicians and nurses learn in school. If the data finds its way into the curricula, when patients come in for a routine checkup doctors can feel comfortable broaching a topic that older people, according to the data, are actually extremely comfortable with already.

Lee concedes the study can’t say for sure whether the trend of sexually active seniors is new or just new to us — maybe seniors have always been getting it on. What’s clearer is that as our level of overall activity stays high through our later years, future generations will likely start seeing their old, ageist idea of prudish seniors fading away. “In our current thinking, old-age sex is either seen through the lens of humor, or disgust, or disbelief even,” Lee said. “So another potential side effect of this, which I think is a positive thing, is breaking down those inter-generational barriers about old-age sexuality.”

Source: Lee D, Nazroo J, O’Connor D, Blake M, Pendleton. Older Men and Women in England: Findings from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Archives of Sexual Behavior. 2015.

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