Sexuality in older age

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Sexual drive can be considerable at any age and for any gender. While the human body has some limits on the maximum age for reproduction, sexual activity can be performed or experienced well into the later years of life.

Increasing physical limitations[edit]

Both male and female libidos tend to decline with increasing age and women tend to lose their libido faster than men. However, this is not to say the desire for sex is lost completely or even that it decreases for everyone. The female menopause has been linked to a loss of interest in sex and to a desensitisation of the genital area.[1] In some cases sexual intercourse can even become painful for older women.[2] However with the advent of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) treatments, the effects of the menopause are being lessened and women have more opportunity to continue to experience an active sex life. Similarly, treatments for erectile dysfunction are making it possible for men to do so. Despite the aging of the population, little is known about the sexual behaviors and sexual function of older people.

One survey[3][4] investigated the prevalence of sexual activity, behaviors, and problems in a national probability sample of 3005 U.S. adults (1550 women and 1455 men) 57 to 85 years of age and the association of these variables with age and health status.

The unweighted survey response rate for this probability sample was 74.8%, and the weighted response rate was 75.5%. The prevalence of sexual activity declined with age (73% among respondents who were 57 to 64 years of age, 53% among respondents who were 65 to 74 years of age, and 26% among respondents who were 75 to 85 years of age); women were significantly less likely than men at all ages to report sexual activity. Among respondents who were sexually active, about half of both men and women reported at least one bothersome sexual problem. The most prevalent sexual problems among women were low desire (43%), difficulty with vaginal lubrication (39%), and inability to climax (34%). Among men, the most prevalent sexual problems were erectile difficulties (37%). Fourteen percent of all men reported using medication or supplements to improve sexual function. Men and women who rated their health as being poor were less likely to be sexually active and, among respondents who were sexually active, were more likely to report sexual problems. A total of 38% of men and 22% of women reported having discussed sex with a physician after the age of 50 years. Conclusions: Many older adults are sexually active. Women are less likely than men to have a spousal or other intimate relationship and to be sexually active. Sexual problems are frequent among older adults, but these problems are infrequently discussed with physicians.

Health benefits[edit]

It has been suggested that an active sex life can increase longevity amongst the elderly. Indeed in the United Kingdom, a government health adviser even went so far as to officially promote the advantages to the elderly of such behaviour. STDs are also prevalent in later life despite common misconceptions that STDs only affect younger people groups. There has actually been a steady increase in the number of STDs found in elderly individuals[5] in nursing homes and other residential living communities, belying the perception that elderly people do not engage in sexual activity. Many men in older age do not believe they need to use protection such as condoms as they age and their partners often feel likewise, so it can be difficult to stress the importance of continued use of protection for elderly couples.[6]

Social attitudes[edit]

Sex between elderly people is often treated as a taboo by society. Whilst sex itself is a sensitive topic due to its private nature, sex between seniors is often treated with extra care. This attitude is especially common among younger people and it has been suggested that this may be caused by younger people's belief that the lust and ability to have sex diminishes once the primary reason for sex is no longer present.[7]

Representation in film and television[edit]

To many, the 1985-1992 sitcom The Golden Girls was groundbreaking in its depiction of healthy active sexual lifestyles and frank sexual discussion among seniors.

The concept of active sexual relationships between older people has in recent years become a more mainstream topic. The film Something's Gotta Give starring Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton explores the relationship that develops between two people in later life.

The HBO series Tell Me You Love Me has caused controversy by showing several explicit sex scenes involving two senior citizen actors on the show, Jane Alexander and David Selby. Presently old aged sex is understood and increasingly accepted in society.[citation needed]