Contrary to the cliché that sex dries up with age, research suggests that for a large number of older adults, it remains a great pleasure all through life—and can even become more satisfying with age.
In a Swedish study published in 2015, a majority of people over age 70 reported being highly satisfied with their sex lives. And a 2012 study of sexually active older women ages 40 to 100, with the median age 67, found that satisfaction often increased over time.
Among the respondents who were 80 or older, half said that they felt sexually satisfied “almost always” or “always”—and they achieved orgasm at rates similar to the youngest women in the survey. Other research has shown that the vast majority of women who are sexually active in midlife—ages 40 to 65—continue to be sexually active as they age. Several factors may account for the good news about sex and aging, including:
• Changing attitudes toward sex. People who came of age in freer, more sexually confident times seem to be carrying those mindsets with them into their retirement years. The Swedish research also showed that the number of people who feel sexually satisfied in later life has been increasing over time. Among 70-year-olds in the 1970s, just 40 percent of women and 58 percent of men reported high sexual satisfaction, compared with six in 10 women and seven in 10 men today.
• Better medical care. More treatment options are available for common problems that may interfere with sex. Erectile dysfunction, for example, is now seen as having many causes, including problems with blood flow to the penis, as well as medication side effects. It can be treated in various ways, from changes in diet and exercise to medications like sildenafil (Viagra), or surgery and implants. Vaginal dryness, the result of falling estrogen levels at menopause, can be remedied with over-the-counter lubricants and moisturizers or vaginal estrogen. Older adults today are also more likely to seek treatment for chronic health problems that can interfere with a good sex life, such as arthritis, diabetes, or leaky bladder.
• More time and space for intimacy. Many older adults are free from the pressures of childrearing and jobs, so they enjoy fewer distractions and more privacy. Also, research shows that, especially for women, sexual satisfaction increases in a long-term relationship, particularly after the first 15 years.
• Knowing yourself better. Mature couples are more likely to be frank about their interests and desires, and confident enough to express their desires to each other.
• Shifting definitions of sexual activity. Sexual frequency and function tends to slow with age, but many people find satisfaction through foreplay and “outercourse”: touching, caressing, cuddling, massage, oral sex, or masturbation—alone or together.