Sexual activity and health among seniors

A survey has been done recently to assess the prevalence of sexual activity, behaviors and problems in relation to health among people ages 57 to 85 years. This was the first comprehensive survey on the prevalence of sexual activity among older adults in America.

The survey asked 3005 men and women about relationship status, frequency and type of sexual activity during the past 12 months, physical health, and communication with a doctor about sex. Those who said that they were sexually active were also asked about any sexual problems.

Researchers found that the decline of sexual activity among older adults is not tied to age alone, but that it is mainly a result of chronic health conditions, such as arthritis, diabetes and hypertension. Healthier people are more likely to be sexually active.

The results of the study show that many older adults are sexually active and view intimacy as an important part of life. However, about half of those surveyed have at least one sexual problem, and about a third of them have at least two problems.

Eighty-one percent of men and 51 percent of women who had excellent or very good health said they had been sexually active in the past 12 months. Of those in fair or poor health, only 47 percent of men and 26 percent of women reported activity.

In general, older adults are sexually active. While the percentage declines with age, it is usually because of health problems, not age itself. Older women were significantly less likely to report sexual activity than older men and they are less likely to be in intimate relationships. This is partly because many older women are widows, since men, on average, have an earlier mortality.

About half of those older adults who are sexually active reported at least one "bothersome" sexual problem. Men said they had erectile difficulties (37 percent). Women said they had low desire (43 percent), difficulty with vaginal lubrication (39 percent), and inability to climax (34 percent).

Despite the high prevalence of sexual problems, most older adults haven't talked about sex with their doctors. Only 38 percent of men and 22 percent of women said they had discussed sex with a physician since age 50.

Doctors should make an effort to provide health education to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. Sexual activity among older adults means that they are at risk for HIV; approximately 15 percent of newly diagnosed HIV infections are among Americans over age 50.

Dr. Lindau, one of the doctors who conducted this study, said: "We found, despite the high prevalence of problems, that most older adults have never discussed sex with a physician. From a medical and a public health perspective, we have an opportunity and an obligation to do better patient education and counseling about health-related and potentially preventable and treatable sexual problems."

Until now, little has been know about the intimate lives of older adults. This study expands our knowledge about sexual activity and health among older adults.

Source: "American Seniors' Intimacy And Sexual Health Studied." Medical News Today. 26 Aug 2007