Healthy Sex Life Can Extend Into 80s

But past STDs, med use and relationship issues can derail intimacy, study says

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HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 13, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- A satisfying sex life is possible as you age into your 70s and 80s, new research suggests.

Many older Americans are apparently taking advantage of that fact, because 68 percent of men between 57 and 85 reported having sex last year, as did 42 percent of women, according to the study's lead author, Edward Laumann, the George Herbert Mead Distinguished Service Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago. And, Laumann added, more older women might have wanted to have sex, but there just aren't as many available older men for them to partner with.

"Healthy people can have reasonably satisfying sexual health for most of their lives," said Laumann. "There are challenges that arise, but it's not aging, per se, that's the issue. A decline in sexuality may be the canary in the mineshaft. Sexual problems may manifest before diabetes and high blood pressure."

The study findings were published in the current issue of The Journal of Sexual Medicine.

"It's definitely whether you're elderly or "wellderly" that makes a difference," said Dr. Virginia Sadock, director of the program of human sexuality at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City. "Illness and medications make a difference in sex lives."

Other factors that can get in the way of a satisfying sex life later in life include having had a sexually transmitted disease, and having physical problems, mental health issues or relationship difficulties, the study found.

The study included information from 1,550 women and 1,455 men between the ages of 57 and 85. All participated in the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project.

Some highlights of the study include:

  • Having had a sexually transmitted disease (STD) in the past nearly quadrupled a woman's odds of having sexual pain, and it tripled the odds a woman would have lubrication problems.
  • In men, a history of STD was associated with five times the risk of finding sex unpleasant.
  • In both older men and women, a common factor in sexual dysfunction and a decreased interest in sex was urinary tract syndrome.
  • Both older men and older women reported that mental health issues affected their interest in sex.
  • For men, relationship troubles also contributed to a lack of interest in sex and the inability to achieve orgasm.
  • Drinking alcohol daily improved a women interest in and pleasure from sex. Alcohol didn't have that effect on men.
  • Hispanic women were twice as likely to report pain during intercourse.
  • Black men were twice as likely to say they weren't interested in sex and were more likely to report climaxing early.

"Sexual health is a harbinger of physical and mental health, and it plays an important role in the quality of life," Laumann said. "Older people don't just drop out of the picture. In general, if you're healthy, you can be sexually active."

Sadock added: "Don't assume that because you're older, your sex life has to be gone. If you're healthy and connected to someone, and you've had a pretty good sex life when you're younger, then you can have a pretty good sex life in old age."

More information

To read more about sex as you age, visit the U.S. National Women's Health Information Center.

SOURCES: Edward Laumann, Ph.D., George Herbert Mead Distinguished Service Professor of Sociology, the University of Chicago; Virginia A. Sadock, M.D., psychiatrist and director of the program of human sexuality, New York University Langone Medical Center, and professor, NYU School of Medicine, New York City; August 2008, The Journal of Sexual Medicine

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