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The Intimate Lives of the Post-Reproductives:
New Research Provides an Interesting Inside Peek

An unprecedented survey of the intimate lives of seniors -- defined as "post-reproductives" -- has put a new spin on sex in your golden years.

frequency of intimacy

The frequency of intimacy drops only slightly from your late 50s through your early 70s, according to this comprehensive survey.

As stereotypes would have it, many assume that intimacy slowly wanes as you age, leaving not much to talk about when it comes to the bedroom habits of the elderly. This is clearly misguided, according to the survey of over 3,000 57- to 75-year-olds, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"For most people, it's a shock to hear that people are having sex in their 70s," said Dr. Barbara Paris, director of geriatrics at Maimonides Medical Center in New York City in a Forbes article.

While it's true that intimacy does decrease slightly when you reach your 70s and beyond, it does not disappear. In fact, the frequency of seniors' sex lives is based on the same things as younger people's -- with lack of a partner or health issues among the two most prominent reasons for a slow down.

Everything You've Wondered (or Tried Not to Wonder) About Sex and Aging

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"It debunks some myths that sex and old age don't go together, and it places this in the context of health and health problems," says Marcia G. Ory, professor of social and behavioral health and director of the Aging and Health Promotion Program at Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health.

Not surprisingly, those who reported being healthy also reported having more intimacy (nearly double the amount) than those who reported fair or poor health. Diabetes, hypertension and other health issues can greatly impact sexual behavior, for instance.

"Sexual health, when it begins to deteriorate, may be an important warning sign, because it may be an early warning sign of more profound health problems," said Edward Laumann, co-author of the study and the George Herbert Mead Distinguished Service Professor in Sociology at the University of Chicago.

The researchers hope the study will open up an avenue of communication about sexual and overall health for seniors, who are the fastest growing segment of the population.

"This subject has been taboo for so long that many older people haven't even talked to their spouses about their sexual problems, let alone a physician," said the lead author, Dr. Stacy Tesser Lindau, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology and of medicine-geriatrics at the University of Chicago.

The study involved two-hour, in-person interviews conducted in the participants' homes. It revealed the following:

  • 73 percent of those aged 57 to 64 had sex with a partner in the previous year

  • 53 percent of those aged 64 to 75 had sex in the previous year

  • 26 percent of those aged 75 to 85 had sex in the previous year

  • The most sexually active people did so two to three times a month or more

  • Men were more likely to be sexually active than women, perhaps because far more women were widowed and lacked partners

  • Sexual problems were reported in half of those having sex. For men, the most common problem was erection trouble, in women, low desire

  • Viagra had been used by one out of seven men to enhance their sex life

  • Most participants had not discussed sexual activity with a doctor since age 50 (only 22 percent of women and 38 percent of men in the survey had)

seniors were conservative, sexually

In general, seniors were conservative, sexually, with most reporting only one partner, and very few saying they paid money for sex.

Ultimately, staying intimate for the long haul, as long as no health problems are at play, may be one of the best things you can do for your health and your relationship. Studies do, in fact, show that couples in happier marriages have sex more often, and intimacy is good for your body and soul.

"A good sex life is an important part of an individual's overall health," says Mark Schoen, Ph.D., director of sex education for the Sinclair Intimacy Institute. "People who have a good sex life feel better [mentally and physically]."

Recommended Reading

The Top 5 Things Couples Argue About

The 6 Common Mistakes Doctors Make When Treating Older Patients -- and How to Prevent Them


New England Journal of Medicine August 23, 2007 August 22, 2007

CBS News August 22, 2007

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