Keeping the flame alive: Sex after 65

May 29, 2018

Many American seniors feel young at heart—and in other meaningful ways—based on findings of a National Poll on Healthy Aging released in early May. Specifically, the researchers say, 40% of U.S. adults between the ages of 65 and 80 are sexually active; and 73% are satisfied with their sex lives.

The nationally representative pol of 1,002 seniors was conducted by the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, and sponsored by AARP and Michigan Medicine, U-M’s academic medical center.

Among the respondents, nearly three-quarters said that they currently are in a romantic relationship—and 54% of elderly couples reported that they still are sexually active.

But, whether or not they have an active sex life at the moment, about two-thirds of older adults say that they still are interested in sex, and more than half say that sex is important to their quality of life.

Among those who still are—or who want to be—sexually active, some need a little advice or help to get the job done. In all, 18% of older men and 3% of older women say they have taken medications or supplements to improve sexual function within the past two years.

However, just 17% of seniors said they had talked with a healthcare provider about their sexual health during the past two years. Most who had engaged in such discussions said they brought the topic up—suggesting, the researchers said, the need for more proactive conversations by clinicians with their older patients.

“Sexual health among older adults doesn’t get much attention but is linked closely to quality of life, health and well-being,” says U-M’s Erica Solway, Ph.D., co-associate director of the poll. “It’s important for older adults and the clinicians who care for them to talk about these issues and about how age-related changes in physical health, relationships, lifestyles and responsibilities (such as caregiving) affect them.”

Factors: Gender, age and health 

Relationships aside, there are a few other factors—gender, age, and health—that may affect a senior’s sex drive.

For instance, compared with the 45% of respondents with excellent, very good, or good health who reported that they were sexually active, only 22% of those who said they are in fair or poor health could say the same. Indeed, just 28% of seniors who are in fair or poor health said they were extremely or very satisfied with their sex lives.

Those respondents between the ages of 65 and 70 were nearly twice as likely as those in their late 70s to be sexually active. One-third of those in their late 60s said they were extremely or very interested in sex, compared with 19% of those in their late 70s.

What’s more, as they age, men and women look at sex differently. Women are a little less likely than men to be sexually active—31% overall, vs. 51% of men—but were more likely to be extremely or very satisfied with their sex lives.

While 84% of older men said sex was an important part of a romantic relationship, fewer older women (69%) said the same. But that still means that over two-thirds of women remain passionately in love, whatever their age or the length of their relationship.l

Research contact:  healthyaging@umich.edu

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