If you’re over the age of 60, you’re probably well aware of the stereotypes that are out there when it comes to the subject of older adults and sex! For instance, you may have heard that older people are not very interested, have a “boring” sex life, or can’t perform due to age-related problems or medical concerns. You might feel that the media is telling you aren’t, or can’t be, sexy. Younger people might even assume that your relationship is physically chaste.
But what’s the true reality when it comes to older adults and sex? You probably won’t be surprised to learn that real life is more interesting and complicated than the stereotypes.
According to a 2008 study of over 3000 adults aged 57 to 85, sexual activity does drop off somewhat with age. It is more frequent among those aged 57 to 64 than those 65 and over. About half of the men and women in this survey said they experienced at least one sexual problem, such as lack of desire or having a hard time keeping an erection.
However, a significant majority of those surveyed in these age groups were definitely still having sex, though this was more true for men than women. And many said they’d like to be having sex more.
The presence of serious health issues in one or both partners is probably the #1 concern for older adults when it comes to intimacy. When someone is sick or has a health problem, feelings of exhaustion, fear, medication side effects, and so can really interfere with having sex. Research finds that this lack of intimacy can then be tied to lower relationship satisfaction.
Performance and arousal issues are also relatively common for men and women. Worries about appearance and the aging of the physical body can also get in the way for some.
However, there are also some real perks that can come along with a mature sex life. With children out of the house, there may be more time for romance and sexuality. Older adults are often more relaxed, confident, and able to express themselves, leading to more satisfying sexual encounters. Interestingly, some studies even suggest that women who are at the oldest end of the spectrum are more sexually content. And research shows that sex is often both more emotionally and physically satisfying at older ages than it is for young adults, with less conflict around the subject. At times, sex really does get better with age.
If difficulties develop, don’t forget that communication may be the key. Though it can be awkward to bring up these concerns, even in a relationship of long standing, it’s worth it. Changes that happen with age may mean that your expression and style of sexuality will change, but this may be quite positive in the end.
Talk to your partner, and if needed, speak to a physician or a sex therapist. There are many ways to cope with these concerns, from medical therapy to changing and broadening your definition of intimacy. The important thing is to look for solutions. According to studies, even a small amount of sex can make a big positive difference to older adults’ relationships.
As a final reminder, don’t forget to stay safe. Depending on their relationship situation, older adults who are sexually active may need to remember to protect themselves against sexually transmitted infections, which have increased dramatically among this age group.
While sexuality can sometimes be a challenge as we grow older, rewards also accompany maturity. There’s no reason to assume that this enjoyable part of life has to dwindle or disappear as we age. Enjoy your sexuality throughout life.
Looking for ways to connect and get closer with your partner? Want to know more about healthy relationships? The SMART Couples project is offering ELEVATE, a free, research-backed relationship enhancement class for couples, in Florida counties across the state. All our programs are taught by trained professionals and are welcoming to all. Sign up today!
By Carol Church, lead writer, SMART Couples, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, University of Florida
Galinsky, A.M., & Waite, L.J. (2014). Sexual activity and psychological health as mediators of the relationship between physical health and marital quality. Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 69(3), 482–492. https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/gbt165
Lindau, S.T., et al. (2007). A study of sexuality and health among older adults in the United States. New England Journal of Medicine, 57:762–774. http://dx.doi.org/10.1056/NEJMoa067423
Lodge, A. C. & Umberson, D. (2012). All shook up: Sexuality of mid- to later life married couples. Journal of Marriage and Family, 74, 428-443.
Trompeter, Susan E. et al. Sexual activity and satisfaction in healthy community-dwelling older women. The American Journal of Medicine, 125, 1, 37 - 43. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.amjmed.2011.07.036
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