MONDAY, Dec. 6, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- Life for men aged 75 or older doesn't mean an end to sex, according to an Australian study.
The researchers found that almost a third of these older men were sexually active at least once a year -- including about 1 in 10 men aged 90 to 95.
What's more, many older men who are sexually active say they'd love to be having more sex. Others are forgoing sex due to health issues, low testosterone levels or simply a lack of partners.
The study, based on a survey of Australian men aged 75-95, most of whom were married or living with a partner, found that younger seniors were busiest of all: 40 percent of those aged 75-79 said they'd had sex in the past 12 months. But even among those aged 90-95, 11 percent reported sexual activity with someone else over the prior year.
"Although many people, including some clinicians, continue to believe that sexual activity is not important to older people, our study shows this is not the case. Even in the 10th decade of life, 1 in 5 men still considered sex important," said study lead author Zoe Hyde, a researcher at the University of Western Australia.
The findings appear in the Dec. 7 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Several studies in recent years have tried to analyze sexuality in older people, who are sometimes assumed to have little or no interest in sex. The popularity of Viagra and related drugs seems to suggest that's hardly the case, but solid numbers have been tough to find.
However, one 2007 study in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that a bit more than half of people surveyed in the U.S. aged 65-74 reported recent sexual activity, as did 26 percent of those aged 74-85.
In the new study, researchers examined the results of a sexuality study of almost 2,800 Australian men who didn't live in nursing homes or other health-care facilities. Among other things, the researchers asked the men if they'd had sexual activity with a partner -- not necessarily intercourse -- within the past year.
Overall, close to 49 percent of men aged 75 to 95 considered sex at least "somewhat important," and just under 31 percent had been sexually active with another person at least once during the previous year.
The study linked a variety of factors to a lack of sexual activity among older men. "Increasing age, lower testosterone levels, a partner's lack of interest in sex, or physical limitations, osteoporosis, prostate cancer, diabetes, use of depression drugs, and use of some blood pressure drugs (beta-blockers) were associated with absence of sexual activity," the team wrote.
Overall, Hyde said, the study suggests that health problems are the main reason why some older men aren't sexually active. "But also lack of a partner and decreased interest in sex for some people are important factors, too," she said.
The researchers took special note of the connection between lower testosterone levels and less sexual activity. "However, it would be too early to suggest testosterone therapy to improve sexual interest and activity in older men at this stage," Hyde stressed.
As for older women, studies have suggested that pain and lack of satisfaction are major issues for them, said Dr. Stacy Tessler Lindau, an associate professor who studies sexuality at the University of Chicago. "If men are having sex, they report satisfaction. That's not necessarily true for women."
Lindau's 2007 study found that only 17 percent of women aged 75-85 reported having some sort of sex over the past year, compared to 39 percent of men.
Were older men who were having sexual relations satisfied with how often it was happening? The new survey showed slightly more than half (56.5 percent) of those who reported having some kind of sex within the previous year said they were happy with how much sex they were getting. But 43 percent of them said they had sex less often than they would like.
It's not clear if the findings are applicable to the United States, but Hyde said the results are similar to those from other Western countries.
Lindau, lead author of the 2007 NEJM study of seniors and sexuality, said this kind of research helps shine a light on a valuable and often-overlooked side of life for many older people.
"We know that sexual activity is associated with good physical and mental health. Whether good sex promotes good health or vice versa is still a good question," she said. "But if we fail to recognize older adults as having sexual lives, then we fail to engage them on the topic, reinforce positive sexual experiences or help them address sexual problems when they arise."
There's more on sexual health at the U.S. National Library of Medicine.