Society’s view that older adults lack interest in sexual activity or sex is a myth. Until recently, many people believed that they were asexual. Men and women are sexual beings, quite capable of sexual response throughout their lives.
Hollywood movies such as “It’s Complicated”,“ Hope Springs”, and “Terms of Endearment” show men and women over 60 engaging in romance and sexual activity. These movies reflect what is happening in the lives of older adults. They fall in love, and are passionate about their partners. TV shows also have middle-aged characters thinking and talking about having sex. Sexy female actors, for example Kim Basinger, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christine Brinkley are in their 60s and Meryl Streep, Dame Helen Mirren, Jane Seymour and Susan Sarandon are in their 70s and Raquel Welch, Sophia Loren, Jane Fonda and Tina Turner are in their 80s. Sexy male actors in their 60s, for example are Pierce Brosnan, Denzel Washington, Liam Neeson, Kevin Costner and Richard Gere and Robert DeNiro are in their 70s, and Warren Beaty, Sam Elliot, and James Brolin are in their 80s, and Clint Eastwood is 91.
Today, people believe that attitudes towards older adults are changing. With Viagra and Cialis and other pharmaceuticals, sex for people over 60 is becoming a ”cultural happening.” Bookstores display many books on sexuality for people over 50 for example, Everything you always wanted to know about sex but were afraid to ask by David Reuben (1972) and Sex After 50 by Dr. Ruth Wertheimer (2005), and Ultimate Guide to Sex after 50: How to Maintain-or Regain-a Spicy, Satisfying Sex Life by Joan Price (2015).
Do adults over 60 think sexual activity is important?
In the National Poll on sex and aging, published online in May 2018, indicated that it is clear that sex is important for many older adults, although it is not often discussed. Findings indicated that 76% of these adults concur that sexual activity is a significant part of a romantic relationship at any age. Among those women and men in a romantic relationship, 54% reported that they are currently engaged in sexual activity.2 Two in five (40%) indicated that they are currently sexually active. Sexual activity decreased with age (46% age 65–70, 39% age 71–75, and 25% age 76–80).1
According to the New England Journal of Medicine (2007) 73% of adults who are between ages 57-64 are sexually active, over 50% of adults who are between ages 65-74 are sexually active and 26% of adults who are between ages 75-85 are sexually active.2 The quality of interpersonal relationships is even more important. As health declines a partner dies, sexual activity declines for men and women. Although treatments for sexual dysfunction are available, many of these older adults do not seek treatment. This survey concluded that the generation gap in attitudes toward sexuality suggests that future generations of elders may not be as accepting of abstinence as the current older generation.2
A mail survey conducted in March 1999 of 1384 adults, ages 45 and over, indicated that a good sexual relationship was very important to a majority of the respondents. About half of those in a relationship reported being sexually active. The quality of interpersonal relationships is even more important.3
Are adults over 60 still capable of a sexual response?
Older men and women who are in fairly good health and who have an available and interested sex partner have the potential to experience excitement and orgasm in their 70s and beyond. As men and women age, they experience changes in sexual response. It may take men longer to become aroused, requiring more genital stimulation. Women have reduced amount of vaginal lubrication. Masters and Johnson’s research on older people and sexual function confirmed that men and women in their 70’s and beyond are sexual beings.4
- Solway, E., Clark, S., Singer, D., Kirch, M., Malani, P. Let’s Talk about Sex. University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging. May 2018. Retrieved from :http://hdl.handle.net/2027.42/143212
- Lindau, S.T., Schumm, L.P., Laumann, E.O., Levinson, W., O’Muircheartaigh, CA., Waite, LJ. A study of sexuality and health among older adults in the United States. N Engl J Med. 2007 Aug 23;357(8):762-74. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa067423. PMID: 17715410; PMCID: PMC2426743.
- AARP/Modern Maturity Sexuality Survey, NFO Research, Inc., AARP Research, August 1999.
- Masters, W. E. and Virginia E. Johnson. (1968).“Human Sexual Response of the Aging Female and the Aging Male,” in Bernice Neugarten, ed., Middle Age and Aging. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p.279