Many Found Sexually Active Into the 70s
Most Americans remain sexually active into their 60s, and nearly half continue to have sex regularly into their early 70s, researchers are reporting today as a result of the most comprehensive national survey to date of sexual behavior among older adults.
But many older people also report struggling with sexual problems, like reduced desire and erectile difficulties, the survey found.
The new report, appearing in The New England Journal of Medicine, was based on interviews with more than 3,000 Americans, 57 to 85 years old, who gave detailed descriptions of their sexual activities.
It found that for varied reasons, women were significantly less likely than men to report being sexually active from age 57 on. Women were more often without a partner, for example, and were more likely to say they no longer derived much pleasure from sex.
Experts said that the new survey provided the first clear and complete picture of sexuality in later life and that it should give older adults a sense of where they stand compared with their peers. Researchers have done previous surveys of sexual activity among older people, but those studies were of patients or other groups who were not nationally representative.
“There’s a large perception out there that sex somehow does not occur in the later years, and this study demonstrates authoritatively that for many people sexual activity does not diminish much at all,” said Dr. Robert N. Butler, president of the International Longevity Center in New York and co-author with his late wife, Myrna I. Lewis, of “Love and Sex After Sixty.”
“Human relationships are important to the very end,” said Dr. Butler, who was not involved in the study.
The researchers, at the University of Chicago and the University of Toronto, contacted by letter a representative group of 3,005 older adults across the country. Trained interviewers then conducted a two-hour face-to-face session with each of these men and women, asking about their sexual activities as well as their physical and social health and other aspects of their lives.
The study, financed partly by the National Institutes of Health, found that 84 percent of men from 57 to 64 reported having had some sexual contact with another person in the last year, compared with 62 percent of women in the same age group. Those figures dwindled to 38 percent and 17 percent, respectively, in people 75 and older.
But among those adults who were sexually active, about two-thirds had sex at least twice a month into their 70s, and more than half continued at that pace into their 80s.
The lead author, Dr. Stacy Tessler Lindau, an assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and geriatrics at the University of Chicago, said the findings should give people a way to gauge their own experiences and might prompt those with questions or problems to ask their doctors.
Nearly half of those who were sexually active reported at least one sexual problem, with 43 percent of women reporting diminished desire, and 39 percent vaginal dryness, and with 37 percent of men reporting erectile difficulties.
But only about a third of the men and just a fifth of the women in the study had discussed sex with a doctor since age 50.