Sex And Aging
By itself, the biological process of aging does not reduce the need or desire for sex. A significant number of older adults enjoy sexual activity and believe that it plays an important role in maintaining physical and psychological health (Meston). For many older adults, the concept of sexuality includes nongenital practices such as kissing, hugging, and fondling. Such activity may replace actual intercourse and becomes increasingly important for those who no longer desire or are capable of coitus (Hodson and Skeen).
Two large surveys of midlife and older adults provide basic information on their sexual attitudes and behavior. The National Council on the Aging (NCOA), found that 61 percent of men and 37 percent of women over age sixty reported being sexually active. Differences in frequency of sexual activity by gender result, in part, from the greater longevity of women that makes them more likely than men to be widowed and without a partner. Also, while age norms permit and even encourage men to seek younger women, such social sanctioning does not hold true for older women and younger men.
Of those NCOA respondents who reported being sexually active at least once a month, well over half perceived maintaining an active sex life as an important aspect of their relationship with their partner. About three-quarters said they were at least as satisfied or more satisfied sexually than they were in their forties. In general, the survey revealed that the lack of a partner and having a disabling medical condition, and not a diminution of desire, were the two main factors limiting sexual behavior.
A survey commissioned by the AARP (formerly American Association of Retired Persons) produced similar findings about older persons and sex (Jacoby). About two-thirds of the study’s respondents who reported being sexually active rated their sexual relationships as being very to extremely satisfying. Although frequency of intercourse decreased with age, over 70 percent of those who were sexually active reported engaging in sex at least once a month. About half between the ages of forty-five and fifty-nine had sex at least once a week, a proportion that decreased to 30 percent for men and 24 percent for women among those age sixty to seventy-four. Being ill or on medication appeared to lessen sexual desire, a circumstance that may explain why those age sixty and over believe that better health would improve their sex lives. Nonetheless, more than half of men and 85 percent of women (including those age seventy-five and older) reported that illness did not adversely affect their sexuality. Both men and women between the ages of forty-five and fifty-nine were more likely than those age sixty and over to approve of sex between unmarried partners and to engage in oral sex and masturbation. They also were less likely to believe that ‘‘sex is only for younger people.’’