Eating, breathing, and moving come to mind immediately. They imagine themselves as frail shells of their former selves who would not only be physically incapable of a sex life, but probably not interested, either. Yes, your sex life will change, but thank goodness! The key is to enjoy what you can do at every age. In fact, several scientific reports indicate that if you really are planning to be , having a good sex life is a good place to start.
In this article I build the premise that life-long sexual activity is not only possible but also desirable. I review the recent science behind this perspective and document the positive aspects of late-life sexuality. The widespread myth exists that sex belongs exclusively to the younger generations. This idea has been thoroughly and thankfully demolished by numerous surveys. Not only do old people maintain a robust and lively interest in sex, but, more importantly, they follow their urges.
Exposing the Lie In the past, when questions would arise from patients and listeners in lecture audiences about sexual matters, I would stumble badly. In an effort to get on the stick and repair this ignorance, I read and studied everything I could, but still felt inadequate. So, I decided to put on a public forum on the topic. Several colleagues and I advertised a three-evening series about sex and aging to be held at our local senior center. As the first evening approached I wondered "What if no one shows up?
This contrasts most lectures on aging topics where the attendees are largely female. The average age of our audience of nearly was 68, and they were acutely attentive throughout.
The majority of the attendees were married or had a sexual partner. Our expert panel went over topics ranging from anatomy and function to disease and drugs — everything was on display. Questions and concerns bubbled up. At the end of the series, we handed out a questionnaire about attitudes and performance.
Completing the questionnaire was voluntary and anonymous, but most everyone sent it back. The responses revealed two major findings. First, the group was very interested in sex and was busily pursuing this interest. First the good news Ninety-two percent of our lecture group reported that ideally they would wish to have sex once per week. This figure was similar for men and women, and for those less and more than 70 years of age. In other words, both the men and women wished for more frequent sexual encounters than they were experiencing.
The male respondents placed a higher value upon intercourse as their preferred form of sexual activity, whereas the females rated "loving and caring" most highly. Despite the generally lusty attitude and activities of our evening group, we did note a clear fall in frequency of sexual expression with age.
Sixty percent of the group indicated a decrease in sexual performances in the last 10 years, 32 percent indicated no change, and 8 percent indicated an increase. These statistics are similar from those of a larger study conducted 15 years ago. In this report performed by the public interest group Consumers' Union, 73, 63, and 50 percent of women in their fifties, sixties, and seventies, respectively, reported having intercourse at least once per week.
Correspondingly, the percentages were 90, 73, and 58 for the same decades in men. Further, 50 percent of the men over 80 in this group recorded sexual activity at least once per week. The critic will ask, "How do you know these figures are not all exaggerations? An year-old of today is a very different person, sexually and in other ways, than the year-old of 50 years from now. I can only predict that the sexual numbers cited in the previous paragraph will increase.
The old saying of "use it or lose it" is affirmed again. This constancy does not, however, account for the substantial numbers of older men and women who report that their sexual profiles in late life are better than they have been. Psychiatrist Eric Pfeiffer wrote that 20 percent of older men feel their sexual lives are better than they were at younger ages.
Sexuality sits wonderfully at the intersection of the biological, psychological, and sociological domains of life.
All three are active participants in a wholesome sexual life. Although it is unlikely that biologic change with age would likely confer any advantage to older persons other than the possible relief from anxiety about possible pregnancy that accompanies a menopause , it is very possible that a great variety of psychological and social adjustments occur with aging that could predictably enhance sexuality. From a strictly biologic and reproductive point of view, sex is best left to the young.
This conception is based on the indisputable fact that age provokes gene change that has major implications for family planning. Whereas only 1 in year-old women show chromosomal defects in their ovaries, this frequency rises to 1 in 7 for year-old women. Determination of male sperm chromosomal pattern is less sternly age affected.
These are interesting and important facts, but they should not obscure the fact that, for humans, reproduction is only a very secondary component of sexual activity. For most of us, sex represents the ultimate in social bonding. It generates long-term commitments, respect, and devotion. It encourages mutual spiritual growth. All of the psychosocial roles that sex plays in us humans do not diminish, in fact should enlarge, as the decades pass.
The flush and rush of early chemical infatuation is on most dramatic display in young lovers, but old lovers can twinkle too. On the other hand, the fine polish that only late-life companionship offers is a deeper and more enduring gift. So, sure, age matters with sexuality.
Along with the well-documented decrements of sexual performance, however, come opportunities for sustaining a long and caring relationship into the tenth decade and beyond. The second strong finding was that problems do exist. Both men and women have problems.
Eighty-five percent of the men under 70 79 percent of those over 70 and 63 percent of the women under 70 44 percent of the women over 70 reported that they were either somewhat or very troubled by some aspects of their sex lives.
What were the problems? For men, the difficulty expressed was nearly exclusively confined to impotency. For the women, the problems had more to do with social rather than biologic issues.
To explore in more depth the troubled male, I initiated another large survey, this time exclusively with men. Through lectures and a number of retired men's luncheon clubs a sample of 1, men was obtained. The average age of the respondents was A item questionnaire asked assorted questions dealing with present and past sexual attitudes and practices.
Once again, a falloff in average sexual activity was noted. The 55 to 59 year age group reported a median value of 3. Great variance existed within these groups. Five percent of the men over 80 years of age reported having intercourse two or more times per week, and an additional 12 percent had intercourse at least once per week.
There was, therefore, a subset of the older men to whom the declines did not seem to apply. First, these lusty year-olds had good physical health, second they took few if any medicines, and third they had a willing and loving partner.
We termed this group our "exemplars. I published these results in the May issue of the Journal of Gerontology. The conclusion stated, "These findings negate a portion of the starkly negative imagery of sexual expression in aging males.
The fact remains however that the great majority of older men suffer from some degree of impotence. Handling Sexual Difficulties The handful of scientific projects designed to look into the topic of sex and aging are in agreement on several findings.
First, older people are more sexually active than is generally appreciated. In one report, college students estimated that their parents made love three times per month. The actual frequency was seven times. One-quarter of the students guessed that their parents never made love. Second, consistency of lifestyle predicts late-life sexuality. If sex is an important component of earlier life quality, it is more likely to be sustained into late life.
Twenty percent of older men feel that their sex lives are better than earlier in life. Women too report lessened tensions, inhibitions, and better communication about sex in their upper decades. Third, problems do exist. Identifying that you may have a problem is key to ensuring a long and healthy sex life. For men the principal difficulties involve impotence. For women it involves lack of opportunity.
Illness, death, and medication use make men less able and available consorts for women. Male sexuality and aging As we men age, we age in many ways. Among the most important is our sexuality. Both in terms of desire libido and performance, we simply aren't the same person as 10 or 50 years ago.
Some aspects, such as having more leisure time and lowered performance pressures, are conducive to improved sexuality. Other features, biologic ones, are negative. The most common of these is impotence. Millions of older men acknowledge various degrees of difficulty in achieving or maintaining an erection. Only recently have scientists begun to understand the biology of having an erection. Doctors have always known that an erection results when the penis fills with blood, but the specific mechanism was totally unknown.