The New England Journal of Medicine recently reported the results of the largest national survey of Americans between the ages of 57 to 85. The goal of the study was to provide some baseline data on sexuality in later life. Our idea of fading sexuality over the years is misplaced- Of the 3000 people surveyed, three quarters of them were married or living with a partner and three fourths of them reported themselves as sexually active.
The decline in sexual activity was not related to aging as much as it was to medical problems and most of the older Americans surveyed said that sex was at least somewhat important in their lives. There was however an important gender split in later life- that aging is largely a partnered experience for men , but not for women.
Women tend to live alone after divorce and widowhood, whereas men tend to re-marry. These statistics reflect on sexuality as well, whereas over half of all the women surveyed reported a lack of interest in sex, compared with a quarter of the men. One third reported problems reaching orgasm compared with 15-30% of men, increasing with age.
It is not really surprising for me to find that sexuality continues to be important as we age, in fact I have read other accounts that say that it is more important than ever before because as we age, we begin to recognize the connections that really matter. In fact, being in a stable and loving relationship is the single largest predictor of longevity.
What continues to amaze me though is the fact that it takes national studies for us to be able to state the obvious, which is that we need love and sex in our lives. We need to be able to talk about it more- Most of those surveyed had not spoken to their physicians about their sex concerns since they were fifty. We need to find a place that is not “adult” oriented but is health oriented in our culture to normalize our sexual drives and needs.
So here it is again, don’t give up on love. Work at it with as much vim and vigor that you apply to your career and you will not only end up happier and more well, but you will live longer in a life that means something to you. By the way, the respondents in the survey were more comfortable talking about their sexuality than they were their incomes- who would have guessed.