Most of us subscribe to the idea that sex diminishes in importance as you age. But a study finds this is a myth. Sex is actually good medicine.

When over 6,800 people, average age 65 living in England, reported their sexual activity — any kind of sexual activity — in the previous 12 months, those who had some kind of sexual contact during the year rated life as more enjoyable than those who had none.

Older couples may find it easier to iron out their differences when it comes to sex and other rough patches in their relationships.

Perhaps the finding that may intrigue couples most is what the study found about what men and women really want from sex. For men, intercourse itself was important, but in this study at least, sexual intercourse was not associated with greater well-being for women. Women's enjoyment was based on more subtler aspects of sexual contact, such as kissing, fondling, petting and feeling emotionally close to their partner.

It's not that men didn't enjoy the subtler aspects of sex — they did — but frequent intercourse was clearly more important to them than to women.

Since men and women are often looking for different things from their relationships, it's hardly surprising that they are looking for different things from sex, too. Older couples may find it easier to iron out their differences when it comes to sex and other rough patches in their relationships, because many of them have learned over time to look past their disagreements and focus on the positive.

The study's lead author, Lee Smith, was not at all surprised by the results. “Previous research has suggested that frequent sexual intercourse is associated with a range of benefits for psychological and physiological wellbeing, such as improved quality of life and mental health, and lower risk of certain cancers and fatal coronary events,” What he is worried about is doctors' tendency to avoid discussing sex and sexual problems with their older patients.

“Health professionals should acknowledge that older adults are not asexual and that a frequent and problem-free sex life in this population is related to better wellbeing. However, encouragement to try new positions to accommodate physical issues and explore different types of sexual activities is not regularly given to ageing populations.”

Sex is too important to ignore during doctor visits. Doctors should not only ask geriatric patients about their sexual activity, but Smith, Director of Research at the Cambridge Centre for Sport and Exercise Sciences, believes they should also offer help for sexual difficulties — such as problems with erections. “…[S]exual activity helps older people live more fulfilling lives.”

If your doctor doesn't bring up the subject, it's up to you to do it. Don't be afraid to ask your doctor for advice and suggestions.

The study appears in the open access journal Sexual Medicine.