Seniors want sex -- and they get it, study finds
BOSTON - Sex is important to many seniors into their 80s and 90s, and they work to enjoy it even if illness or other problems get in the way, according to a study published on Wednesday.
Many older people have sex regularly, usually as often as younger people do, said Stacy Tessler Lindau of the University of Chicago, who led the study.
"The frequency of sexual activity does not change a whole lot across age groups," she said.
Lindau's team found that 73 percent of people aged 57 to 64 reported having sex at least once in the past year, which put them into the "sexually active" category of the study.
The number fell to 53 percent for men 65 to 74 and to 26 percent for those 75 to 85. Women were less likely to be active because they were less likely to have a partner.
"We found that about 50 percent of men and a quarter of the women reported that they masturbate, and this was irrespective of whether or not they had a sexual partner," Lindau told reporters in a telephone briefing.
"This suggests that, among older adults, there is an internal drive or need for sexual fulfillment."
The study, based on surveys of more than 3,000 U.S. adults, was designed to give some insight in what is normal and what is possible for senior citizens.
"The prevalence of sexual activity declines with age, yet a substantial number of men and women engage in vaginal intercourse, oral sex, and masturbation even in the eighth and ninth decades of life," the researchers wrote in their report, published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
"Discussion of sexuality later in life has long been a taboo subject, and physicians, like the rest of the public, have been susceptible to perpetuating these stereotypes," Lindau said.
"The study provides information that allows people to see where their experiences align against the experience of others of similar age and similar health status."
She said it also might encourage doctors to ask more questions about a patient's sex life and arrange for treatment if necessary.
Among the findings:
* More than half of the sexually active people in the study said they had sex with a partner two or three times a month, even at age 75 to 85.
* 14 percent of men and 1 percent of women said they took some type of drug to improve sexual function.
* 35 percent of women rated sex as being "not at all important," compared to just 13 percent of men. Older women were more likely to feel that way.
* About half of men and women said they had at least one bothersome sexual problem. For men, it was often erection difficulties, lack of interest or climaxing too quickly. For women, the problems included pain, inability to climax or lack of lubrication.
When the researchers asked men aged 75 to 85 who had a spouse or intimate relationship why they had not had sex in the last three months, 19 percent cited lack of interest, 17 percent said their partner was not interested, 9 percent said religious beliefs prohibited sex outside marriage and 2 percent said they lacked the opportunity.
At the same time, 61 percent cited health problems or limitations, and 23 percent said the limitations of their partner was the reason.
© Reuters 2007