Forget the clichés about interest in sex “drying up” with age. Sexual satisfaction doesn’t carry an expiration date. And although some parts of getting older can pose challenges—like certain physical changes or lack of a partner—for a surprising numbers of older adults, sex remains a great pleasure all through life.
In fact, the majority of people over 70 say they’re highly satisfied with their sex lives, according to Swedish research reported in 2015. What’s more, satisfaction often increases over time. That was the key finding of a 2012 study of sexually active older women ages 40 to 100, with the median age 67.
Half of the 80-plussers in that study reported that they felt sexually satisfied “almost always” or “always”—and they achieved orgasm at rates similar to the youngest women in the survey. Other research has shown that the vast majority of women who are sexually active in midlife—ages 40 to 65—continue to be sexually active as they age.
What accounts for late-life hotness?
Changing attitudes toward sex. People who came of age in freer, more sexually confident times seem to be carrying those mindsets with them into their retirement years. The Swedish research also showed that the number of people who feel sexually satisfied in later life has been increasing over time. Among 70-year-olds in the 1970s, just four in ten women and 58 percent of men reported high sexual satisfaction, compared with six in 10 women and seven in 10 men now.
Better medical care adds comfort, pleasure. More treatment options are available for common problems that may interfere with sex. Erectile dysfunction, for example, is now seen as having many causes, including problems with blood flow to the penis, as well as medication side effects. It can be treated in various ways, from changes in diet and exercise to medications like Viagra, or surgery and implants. Vaginal dryness, the result of falling estrogen levels at menopause, can be remedied with over-the-counter lubricants and moisturizers or vaginal estrogen. Older adults today are also more likely to seek treatment for chronic health problems that increase with age and can interfere with a good sex life, such as arthritis, diabetes, or leaky bladder. No more suffering in silence.
More time and space for intimacy. Many older adults are free from the pressures of childrearing and jobs, so they enjoy fewer distractions and more privacy. Also, research shows that, especially for women, sexual satisfaction increases in a long-term relationship, particularly after the first 15 years.
Knowing yourself better. Mature couples are more likely to be frank about their interests and desires, and confident enough to express their desires to each other. Researchers have found that women who rate sex as important in midlife are three times more likely to remain sexually active as those who rate it unimportant.
Shifting definitions of sexual activity. Sexual frequency and function tends to slow with age, but many people find satisfaction through foreplay and “outercourse”: touching, caressing, cuddling, massage, oral sex, or masturbation—alone or together.
Bottom line: Those who maintain a satisfying sex life in older age tend to be healthier and happier overall. If your sexual desire has waned, try redefining sex with caressing and cuddling.