This article draws on several academic sources and presents eighteen facts about aging and sex.
1. Aging leads to a smaller pool of potential mates. As one ages, the pool of available partners becomes smaller. One is also likely to have had partners and potential mates who become impaired or die (1). In addition, there are more widows than widowers as women tend to live longer and healthier lifespans than most men, which leads to more widows than widowers among heterosexual couples (2). Women have a 30% chance of ever being widowed, compared to the 10.4% chance of men (3).
2. Many older men mate with younger women. More men mate with younger females far later in life (4) and heterosexual men are more likely than women to have a sexual partner at most ages (5).
3. There is an increasingly single older women population. There is an increasingly single, older female population which can influence the formation of atypical statuses later in life (for example, staying “unattached” or choosing atypical characteristics in a partner, or choosing cohabitation over marriage) (6).
4. Older men are more likely to view sex as important than older women. Older men are more likely than women to report continued sexual activity as a very important aspect of life satisfaction (7). Further, women generally show a greater desire for sexual contact while partnered (8). The presence of a partner seems to be a strong predictor of whether a female remains sexually active. Being paired enhances sexual desire for both genders and the majority of sexual activity for older men and women takes place in coupled relationships (9).
5. Sexual satisfaction in long-term relationships and marriage is both positive and negative. According to a survey, 52% of couples reported that they are still satisfied with their sex life even though almost three-quarters of couples had been together 10 years or more (10). If a marriage is emotionally supportive for both partners, sex is likely to be perceived positively by both men and women. However, a significant number of married couples who have been together for extended periods of their life begin to experience boredom in the bedroom and decreased desire for sexual activity (11). Several studies found that the duration of marriage negatively relates to sexual frequency (12). Sexual issues are a major reason for the increase in divorce in older couples.
6. Relationship issues in older couples affect sexual activity. Unsatisfying marital relationships result in significant increases in psychological distress and a serious decrease in sexual functioning (13).
7. Lack of sex leads to significant relationship stress more so for older men than older women. Men reported sex as a main cause of relationship stress almost two times as much as women (14). 60% of men versus 30% of women felt that they were not having frequent enough sex. Discrepancies in sexual desire between spouses at any age have been correlated with lower sexual satisfaction and relationship satisfaction (15). It is also the most common complaint that brings couples to sex therapists (16).
8. Older dating individuals generally have more sex than older married couples and experience greater sexual satisfaction. 48% of singles who continue dating have sex at least once a week compared to 36% of married individuals (17). 60% of dating older singles report satisfaction with their sex life, compared to 52% of married respondents (18). This difference is probably a result of the sexual novelty and higher frequencies present in newer sexual relationships (19).
9. Erectile dysfunction and menopause lead to sexual decline. Erectile dysfunction is viewed by older men as a loss of masculinity, an embarrassment, and as humiliating (20). Women who experience side effects of menopause can be convinced that this also means the end of their interest in sex. These factors can lead partners to more readily accept sexual decline as a natural part of life (21).
10. Erectile dysfunction is a significant condition for many older men and leads to the cessation of all sexual activity. 30% of male respondents over 45 reported some degree of ED and 27% had actually been diagnosed with the disorder (22). While stroking a non-erect penis can result in arousal and climax, a lack of ability to have an erection is highly associated with the cessation of all sexual activity (23).
11. Older women make use of sexual devices and masturbatory aids. Older women not wanting to enter the dating pool again but still desire sexual stimulation may find satisfaction using sexual devices (24). The marketplace for various masturbatory aids is vast and is utilized by both individuals and coupled partners. The occasional solo session with a sex toy may be enough for many older adults experiencing the dilemma of not wanting to date but still seeking exciting new sexual stimulation.
12. There has been a dramatic increase in cohabitation in older men and women. There has been a significant growth in older couples living together. The number of partners over 50 cohabiting has more than tripled since 2000 (25). Evidence indicates that several factors (emotional satisfaction, relationship satisfaction, psychological well-being, pleasure, etc.) in cohabiting couples are equivalent to or better than those levels found in married samples (26). Older men and women who are partnered and unmarried experience higher sexual frequencies and greater sexual satisfaction ratings (27).
13. There is a positive correlation between older men over the age of 60 losing their spouse and subsequently being diagnosed with an STD within less than a year of separation between both events (28). This correlation was non-existent for women even though they had a higher likelihood of having an STD overall.
14. Older women are more likely to be caregivers. Older women are very likely to have spent their last years of marriage before widowhood being caregivers (29). Many older women do not marry because they often do not want to face those kinds of emotional and physical demands again (30).
15. More men remarry than women. 19% of men remarry within 14 years of their spouse’s passing while only around 7% of women do (31). This indicates that men are much more likely to actively seek out new sexual partners, or even a new committed relationship, after bereavement than most women would.
16. Aging can lead to body image problems more so for older women than men. The value placed on youthful aesthetics presents a universal challenge for those aging out of their physical prime (32). Although women worry about their looks as they age, this does not hinder their psychological happiness as much as they had anticipated before their menopausal status. Evidence suggests that women who are 50 and older report greater emotional well-being than women in younger age brackets (33).
However, aging women consistently have negative views of their own attractiveness. When women and men between the ages of 65 and 75 were asked to rate their sexual desirousness, the mean rating for both sexes was within the “neither desirable nor undesirable” range (34). This indicates a relatively low body image. Those sampled for this study did not seem to be attracted to their peers but rather found younger potential partners more desirable. Poor body image can undermine sexual satisfaction (35), yet it is the norm for many older women. Poor body image results in lower sexual satisfaction, increased sexual self-consciousness during intimacy, and lower arousability (36).
17. Men are more critical of sexual attractiveness. Men are more critical of attractiveness and more attracted to youth as they age (37). They are more likely to mate with younger partners and state more marital happiness if they rate their partner as highly attractive (38). This exerts pressure on heterosexual women, most of whom are well aware of men’s desire for youthful and attractive partners. Male sexual desire is one of the primary determinants of whether a couple stays sexually active (39).
18. Older women are increasingly having plastic surgery. Having plastic surgery is a method women are increasingly utilizing to slow the appearance of aging. The vast majority of women having plastic surgery are middle-to-older-aged women (40). In an era when people over 50 have a higher likelihood of divorce, women worry about whether or not they will stay sexually compelling to their partner, even if he is not attracted to women half his age (41).
1. Schwartz, Pepper., and Velotta, Nicholas. 2018. “Gender and Sexuality in Aging”. In Handbook of the Sociology of Gender, edited by Barbara J. Risman, Carissa Froyum, and William J. Scarborough, 329-347. Springer Press. p. 331.
2. Schwartz, Pepper., and Velotta, Nicholas. 2018. Ibid. p. 331.
3. Sasson, I., and Umberson, D. J. 2014. “Widowhood and depression: New light on gender differences, selection, and psychological adjustment.” The Journal of Gerontology 68(1):135-145.
4. England, P., and McClintock, E. 2009. “The gendered double standard of aging in US marriage markets.” Population and Development Review 35(4):797-816.
5. Fisher, L., Anderson, G., Chapagain, M., Montegnegro, X., Smoot, J., and Takalkar, A. 2010. Sex, Romance, and Relationships: AARP Survey of Midlife and Older Adults. AARP; Lindau, S. T., and Gavrilova, N. 2010. “Sex, health, and years of sexually active life gained due to good health: Evidence from two US population based cross sectional surveys of ageing.” British Medical Journal 340. Available.
6. Schwartz, Pepper., and Velotta, Nicholas. 2018. Ibid. p. 331.
7. Fisher, L., et al. 2010. Ibid.
8. Lindau, S. T., and Gavrilova, N. 2010. Ibid.
9. Gagnon, J., Giami, A., Michaels, S., and De Colomby, P. 2001. “A comparative study of the couple in the social organization of sexuality in France and the United States.” Journal of Sex Research 38(1):24-34.
10. Fisher, L. et al. 2010. Ibid.
11. Call, V., Sprecher, S., and Schwartz, P. 1995. “The incidence and frequency of marital sex in a national sample.” Journal of Marriage and Family 57(3):639-652.
12. Marsiglio, W., and Donnelly, D. 1991. “Sexual relations in later life: A national study of married persons.” Journals of Gerontology 46(6):338-344.
13. Trudel, G., Villeneuve, L., Préville, M., Boyer, R., and Fréchette, V. 2010. “Dyadic adjustment, sexuality and psychological distress in older couples.” Sexual and Relationship Therapy 25(3):306-315.
14. Northrup, C., Schwartz, P., and Witte, J. 2012. The normal bar: The surprising secrets of happy couples and what they reveal about creating a new normal in your relationship. New York: Harmony Books
15. Schwartz, Pepper., and Velotta, Nicholas. 2018. Ibid. p. 332.
16. Willoughby, B., Farero, A., and Busby, D. 2014. “Exploring the effects of sexual desire discrepancy among married couples.” Archives of Sexual Behavior 43(3):551-562.
17. Fisher, L. et al. 2010. Ibid.
18. Fisher, L. et al. 2010. Ibid.
19. Schwartz, Pepper., and Velotta, Nicholas. 2018. Ibid. p. 335-336.
20. Wiley, D., and Bortz, W. 1996. “Sexuality and aging–usual and successful.” The Journals of Gerontology 51(3):M142-6; Schwartz, Pepper., and Velotta, Nicholas. 2018. Ibid. p. 332.
21. Weeks, D. J. 2002. “Sex for the mature adult: Health, self-esteem and countering ageist stereotypes.” Sexual & Relationship Therapy 17(3)231-240.
22. Fisher, L. et al. 2010. Ibid
23. Hinchliff, S., and Gott, M. 2011. “Seeking medical help for sexual concerns in mid- and later life: A review of the literature.” Journal of Sex Research 48(2-3):106-117.
24. Schwartz, Pepper., and Velotta, Nicholas. 2018. Ibid. p. 336.
25. Brown, S. L., Bulanda, J. R., and Lee, G. R. 2012. “Transitions into and out of cohabitation in later life.” Journal of Marriage & Family 74(4), 774-793.
26. King, V., and Scott, M. E. 2005. “A comparison of cohabiting relationships among older and younger adults.” Journal of Marriage and Family 67(2):271-285; Brown, S. L., and Kawamura, S. 2010. “Relationship quality among cohabitors and marrieds in older adulthood.” Social Science Research 39(5):777-786; Musick, K., and Bumpass, L. 2012. “Reexamining the case for marriage: Union formation and changes in well-being.” Journal of Marriage and Family 74(1):1-18.
27. Fisher, L. et al. 2010. Ibid
28. Ball, H. 2010. “Death of a spouse may be associated with increased STD diagnosis among older men.” Perspectives on Sexual & Reproductive Health 42(1):64-64.
29. Schwartz, Pepper., and Velotta, Nicholas. 2018. Ibid. p. 338.
30. Hunt, G., and Reinhard, S. 2015. Caregiving in the U.S.: The national alliance for caregiving AARP Public Policy Institute. Available.
31. Schwartz, Pepper., and Velotta, Nicholas. 2018. Ibid. p. 338.
32. Schwartz, Pepper., and Velotta, Nicholas. 2018. Ibid. p. 338.
33. Barrett, A., and Toothman, E. 2016. “Explaining age differences in women’s emotional well-being: The role of subjective experiences of aging.” Journal of Women & Aging 28(4):285-296.
34. McCarthy, S. 1991. Sexual desirability, dating, and sexual intimacy as influenced by age, income, and physical attractiveness in older adults: Does the double standard of aging apply?. Cited in Schwartz, Pepper., and Velotta, Nicholas. 2018. Ibid. p. 338.
35. Masters, W., and Johnson, V. 1970. Human sexual inadequacy. Boston: Little, Brown; Holt, A., and Lyness, K. 2007. “Body image and sexual satisfaction: Implications for couple therapy.” Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy 6(3):45-68.
36. Sanchez, D., and Kiefer, A. 2007. “Body concerns in and out of the bedroom: Implications for sexual pleasure and problems.” Archives of Sexual Behavior 36(6):808-820.
37. Schwartz, Pepper., and Velotta, Nicholas. 2018. Ibid. p. 339.
38. Margolin, L., and White, L. 1987. “The continuing role of physical attractiveness in marriage.” Journal of Marriage and Family 49(1):21-27; Teuscher, U., and Tesuscher, C. 2007. “Reconsidering the double standard of aging: Effects of gender and sexual orientation on facial attractiveness ratings.” Personality and Individual Differences 42(4):631-639; England, P., and McClintock, E. 2009. Ibid; Meltzer, A. L., McNulty, J. K., Jackson, G. L., and Karney, B. R. 2014. “Sex differences in the implications of partner physical attractiveness for the trajectory of marital satisfaction.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 106(3):418-428.
39. Beckman, N., Waern, M., Gustafson, D., and Skoog, I. 2008. “Secular trends in self reported sexual activity and satisfaction in Swedish 70 year olds: Cross sectional survey of four populations, 1971–2001.” British Medical Journal 337(7662):151-154.
40. Brooks, A. 2010. “Aesthetic anti-ageing surgery and technology: Women’s friend or foe?” In Technogenarians, edited by K. Joyce and M. Loe, 64-82. Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell; American Society of Plastic Surgeons. 2014. ASPS National Clearinghouse of Plastic Surgery Procedural Statistics. ASPS. See here for reports.
41. Schwartz, Pepper., and Velotta, Nicholas. 2018. Ibid. p. 339.