SEX
May 9, 2018

The Summer of Love, 50 Years On

A poll of people over 65 finds they think sex is still important. Health and gender matter, however.

A survey of people 65 and older reveals some interesting facts about their sexual attitudes and lifestyle. The most important one may be that virtually no one is talking with their doctor about their sexual health — barely one person in six. On the bright side, the University of Michigan poll found that, overall, 73 percent of seniors reported being satisfied with their sex life.

One sharp difference the poll revealed was in the attitudes of men and women. Half of the men said they were extremely or very interested in sex, as sales of drugs for erectile dysfunction seem to indicate, but only 12 percent of the women said they felt that way. Having a partner — not being widowed — was also a factor in sexual interest.

“Sexual health among older adults doesn't get much attention but is linked closely to quality of life, health and well-being.”

If you are one of those people who believes that sex ends at 65, the results of the University of Michigan's National Poll on Healthy Aging May 2018 Report: Sex after 65 show otherwise: 40 percent of the seniors responding to the survey reported being sexually active. Among the nearly three-quarters who said they had a romantic partner, 54 percent reported being sexually active.

Age does eventually take a toll on your sex life. Those who were between 65 and 70 were nearly twice as likely to be sexually active as those in their late 70s. Declining health is a factor.

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“Sexual health among older adults doesn't get much attention but is linked closely to quality of life, health and well-being,” said Erica Solway, co-associate director of the National Poll on Healthy Aging at the University of Michigan's Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.

“It's important for older adults and the clinicians who care for them to talk about these issues and about how age-related changes in physical health, relationships, lifestyles and responsibilities such as caregiving, affect them,” she added.

Yet that doesn't seem to be happening, despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that those in their 60s and 70s grew up during the sexually liberated 1960s. Sixty-two percent of those older adults polled said that if they were having a problem with their sexual health, they would talk with their health provider about it, but only about 17 percent had actually done so in the past two years. It may be they had no reason for concern yet, but it might also reflect a feeling that sex shouldn't be a problem.

The survey findings don't illuminate the reasons why few seniors discuss sexual issues with their physicians, but the researchers did find that most of the people who reported discussing sexual health with their doctor said that they were the one who brought up the topic, not the doctor. So don't wait for your doctor to broach the subject. If you have a question about changes in your sexual responsiveness or your sex life in general, don't wait; bring it up.

For younger people the takeaway might be the finding that while 45 percent of the people who said they were in good or better health described themselves as sexually active, only 22 percent in fair or poor health did. So if you are hoping to enjoy years of physical intimacy later — and longer — in life, you have another reason to eat right and exercise.

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