Believe it or not, in some circles, it’s still taboo to talk about sex. But it’s not hard to believe that there are basically no circles where people are eager to discuss sex among older adults. Nonetheless, sex in later life usually doesn’t stop entirely. Instead, older adults tend to experience a decline in previous rates of sexual intercourse as they age and begin to experience more physical ailments that inhibit this type of activity. However, Woody Allen, one of my favorite older adults, conveyed his continued desire to have sex aptly when he said, “Sex is the most fun you can have without laughing.”
In addition to Mr. Allen, it is believed that, in the United States, approximately 66 percent of men ages 65 to 74 and 40 percent of women in the same age range are still sexually active. With that said, researchers still have more to learn about the social variables that are important in the sex lives of older adults. In an attempt to add to the knowledge base about sex and older adults, a group of researchers published a study last month in the Archives of Sexual Behavior delineating their findings regarding how couples’ sex lives change in older age with respect to marital status.
The authors vetted several hypotheses using survey data taken from a sample of 1,656 married older adults ages 57 tp 85 from the 2005-2006 National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project. Their analyses found that older adults who were still on their first marriage tended to have sex more often than remarried individuals. Additionally, when controlling for other factors, the duration of marriages had a curvilinear (i.e., U-shaped) association with the frequency of sex between partners—meaning that sexual activity was greatest at the beginning of marriages and among couples who had been married for a longer period of time, while marriages of intermediary length had lower levels of sexual activity. Furthermore, when broken down by gender, it was found that men had sex more often than women when looking at younger marriages.
The authors speculated that relationship permanency might be fueling the greater occurrence of intercourse in first marriages, and that because men tend to be slightly older than the women they marry, those older husbands may experience declining health, which might be causing the lower frequency for the women in these marriages. In any event, additional research is needed to build on this work so that we may know more about “the most fun you can have without laughing.”
Stroope S, McFarland MJ, and Uecker JE. Martial characteristics and the sexual relationships of U.S. older adults: An analysis of national social life, health, and aging project data. Archives of Sexual Behavior. (2014). DOI 10.1007/s10508-014-0379-7