The first detailed study of the sex lives of aging Baby Boomers and Matures reveals that most adults between the ages of 57 and 85 think that sexuality is “an important part of life” and that sexual activity only declines slightly between an individual’s 50’s and 70’s.
“We found that older adults remain interested and engage in sex, yet many experience bothersome sexual problems that can compromise both health and relationships,” said Stacy Tesser Lindau, MD, lead author of the study in a University of Chicago Medical Center press release. Lindau is assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology and of medicine-geriatrics at the University of Chicago.
Study participants were refreshingly—and surprisingly—honest and direct in their responses. Seventy-five percent of those approached agreed to participate, and only 2 to 7 percent refused to answer direct questions regarding sexual activities or problems. “Participants were more likely to refuse questions about income than they were about sex,” Lindau said.
The study found that overall health and sexual activity were linked, and that as health declined after one’s early 70’s, so did one’s sexual activity, especially for women. Of those who remained sexually active, nearly half reported at least one problem, including lack of desire (43 percent of women), vaginal dryness (39 percent of women) and erectile dysfunction (37 percent of men).
“Although sexuality has long been thought to deteriorate inevitably with age, we found that health is a more important indicator for many aspects of sexuality than is age alone,” Lindau said. “This suggests that older adults with medical problems, or those considering treatment that might affect sexuality, should be counseled based on health status rather than just their age.”
In fact, the top reason for a decline in sexual activity among partnered individuals was the male partner’s failing physical health. However, men were more likely than women to seek medical attention for their problems, perhaps due to the availability of prescription medications to treat this issue. Nearly one in seven men (14 percent) reported taking medication to enhance sexual function. American men spend over a billion dollars annually on medications aimed at improving sexual performance.
With the large number of
approaching 60, the number of older adults is rapidly growing, and with that, focus turns to sex in maturity. However the “lack of reliable information about how sexual activity and function might change with age and illness, combined with taboos around discussing sex in later life, contributes to worry or even shame for many older adults,” Lindau added.
The University of Chicago study also revealed a major gap between men and women in terms of intimate relationships. A vast majority of men (78 percent) between the ages of 75 to 85 have a spouse or other intimate relationship, while nearly half that number (40 percent) of women in that age group has a spouse or partner. This is most likely due to age differences in relationships coupled with women’s greater lifespan. According to study co-author Linda Waite, “women’s sexuality is more often affected by the death or poor health of their spouse.”
The results of this study promise to give hope and support to the great numbers of aging Baby Boomers and Matures who may dread seemingly sexless years ahead.
“We hope our findings improve public health by countering harmful stereotypes and allowing older individuals to view their experience relative to others,” Lindau said. “It may comfort people to know that they are not alone in enjoying sexual activity as they age or in experiencing sexual problems, some of which could be alleviated with medical attention.”