Sex After 60 -- Why Not?

Last Editorial Review: 1/30/2005

Sexy Seniors

WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Gary Vogin Many seniors are physically healthy and active, including sexually. "People don't lose their passion," one senior says. "They don't lose wanting to be held, to be touched, having physical contact with another human being."

Seniors having sex is perfectly normal, says Beverly Whipple, PhD, a professor of nursing at Rutgers University and president of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, even though the idea may be foreign or even repulsive to younger people. "We grew up thinking that anyone over 65 who is interested in sex must be a dirty old man or woman."

But these days, people are living longer and staying healthier. A woman's life expectancy is now 81, and a man's 76, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. So it makes sense that they would continue to pursue activities they have enjoyed throughout life -- including sex.

Not all seniors continue to have sex, of course. But the healthier a senior is, the more likely he or she has a healthy sex life as well, according to a sexuality survey of nearly 1,400 adults aged 45 and older commissioned in 1999 by AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired Persons. Sexual activity, the survey concludes, "declines with age for both men and women as health declines or they lose partners."

Among those with sexual partners, 25% of those 75 and older said they have sex once a week or more often, as do more than 60% of respondents aged 45 to 59. And 70% of all those with partners said they have sex at least once a month.

Sixty-seven percent of the men and 57% of the women also said a satisfying sexual relationship was important to their quality of life. And as the years go by, older people said they still view their partner as romantic, physically attractive, or both. In both age groups, two out of three respondents who had sexual partners said they were either "extremely" or "somewhat" satisfied with their sex lives.

New Toys for Seniors

Surveys aren't the only indication that senior sex is here to stay. The most loyal subscribers of the "Sex Over 40" newsletter published by the Sinclair Intimacy Institute in Chapel Hill, N.C., are "way over 40," according to Mark Schoen, PhD, director of sex education for the institute.

Older Americans are not just reading about sex, they are also big purchasers of the explicit videos the institute sells. They also buy "the same kind of sex toys, such as vibrators, as 30-year-olds," says Schoen. "Grandmother and Grandfather may not talk like 20-year-olds, but they are still sexually active."

Better Loving Through Chemistry

And if a how-to video or a newsletter doesn't help, medication may come to the rescue by helping sexually active seniors to maintain overall health or to specifically solve their sexual problems. According to Meredith Art, a spokeswoman for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, there are 450 medicines in the pipeline for heart disease, cancer, and stroke, the leading killers of older Americans, plus another 191 drugs in development to tackle major causes of disability among seniors, such as Alzheimer's disease, depression, and arthritis.

Nine drugs for sexual dysfunction are also in development. So if Viagra, the much-touted erection-inducing drug, doesn't do the job, there might be other choices soon for both men and women.

Joe Volz, 65, of Washington, D.C., a newspaper reporter for 40 years, wrote for The New York Daily News (where he was a Pulitzer Prize finalist), The Washington Star, and The Washington Daily News. For the past decade, as a syndicated writer for 200 newspapers, he has covered issues of interest to older Americans.

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