WEDNESDAY, July 9, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- When it comes to sex, grandma and grandpa are having more of it these days, new Swedish research suggests.
According to the study, the last quarter century has seen a dramatic rise in the frequency of sex among the 70-year-old set, whether married or unmarried. And as an added bonus, seniors today (particularly women) say they're much more satisfied with their liaisons than the previous generation -- facing less sexual dysfunction and feeling more positive about the experience.
"Our study shows that a large majority of elderly consider sexual activity and sexual feelings a natural part of late life," said study author Nils Beckman, a doctoral candidate with the neuropsychiatric epidemiology unit at the Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology at Gothenburg University. "It is thus important that health professionals and others take sexuality into consideration, irrespective of age."
The findings are reported online in the British Medical Journal.
Beckman and his team reviewed surveys concerning sexual behavior and attitudes that had been completed by more than 1,500 healthy 70-year-old Gothenburg residents over a 30-year period.
The polls had been conducted in 1971-1972, 1976-1977, 1992-1993, and 2000-2001.
Between the first survey and the last, the frequency of sexual intercourse was found to have increased among all groups. Among married men, 68 percent said they were engaging in the practice in the latest poll, compared with 52 percent in 1971, while among married women the number had risen from 38 percent to 56 percent.
Among unmarried men, the jump went from 30 percent to 54 percent in the same 30-year span, while among unmarried women the observed bump was from just under 1 percent to 12 percent.
Women seemed to make the most headway in terms of increasing their sexual satisfaction. While men expressed more positive attitudes about sex in 1971, by 2001 the gender difference had evaporated.
As well, more 21st-century women said they were highly satisfied with their sex; fewer said they had low satisfaction; more said they experienced an orgasm during sex; and fewer said they had never had an orgasm.
Regarding the degree to which the respondents said they felt "very happy" about their relationship, the three-decade trend also moved in a similarly positive direction for both genders: rising from 40 percent to 57 percent among men, and from 35 percent to 52 percent among women.
Beckman and his colleagues speculated that, in part, the findings might simply reflect the degree to which Western societies have become more comfortable in dealing with sexual matters frankly and openly -- perhaps leading to a greater willingness to honestly report sexual encounters.
"(And) maybe it has become more permissible to leave an unhappy marriage today," suggested Beckman. "And even for widows [and] widowers to establish new relations."
Whatever the explanation, S. Jay Olshansky, a professor of public health and senior research scientist at the Center on Aging at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), said the findings closely mirror the results of similar research conducted at UIC and elsewhere.
"Probably the addressing of physiological problems with the development of medications like Viagra explain some -- but not all -- of the upward sexual activity trend," he said. "But the most important point being made here is that when it comes to sex, clearly it doesn't matter what age you are. At least most men and many women still have a desire to have it as they age."
For more on seniors and sex, visit the U.S. National Institute on Aging.