A new study disputes the belief that sex is for young people, showing that while older people may have less frequent sex, it is still important for their happiness and physical health.
A recent study by UK-based researchers titled, ‘Sexual Activity is Associated with Greater Enjoyment of Life in Older Adults’ was published in the journal Sexual Medicine -September, 2019.
The study shows a distinct correlation between sex in older people and their continuing health. Men with lower sexual desire were at a greater risk of subsequent chronic illness, including cancer, with limited daily activity.
The study showed that both men and women who had less frequent sex (less than twice a month), were at a higher risk for experiencing less satisfaction with their current level of health. Erectile dysfunction was also connected with cancer or heart disease.
The study showed sexually active older people also experience greater enjoyment of life, as opposed to a lower sense of well-being among those who aren’t. Frequency of sexual intercourse is more important in promoting a sense of well-being in men. However, more frequent non-sexual touching like kissing or petting is linked to greater sense of well-being in both groups, but more in women than in men. Cognitive skills are also higher in the former group of men.
The UK-based researchers found that sexual activity tends to become less frequent with age. Thus at the age of 60-69 years, 85% of men enjoyed sexual activity, corresponding to 60% and 32 % of men in their seventies and eighties.
Women did experience less sexual activity than men as they grew older. However, neither men nor women wanted to give it up as they aged. This is backed by similar studies in the US. Men and women have different criteria for a positive sex life, characterized by increased frequency in men and increased enjoyment in women.
The researchers surveyed over 5,000 older people, in a rough 2:3 ratio. The questions asked included frequency of sex and other sexual activities, any reduction in sexual desire over the past year, sexual satisfaction, and the ability to have an erection or sexual arousal for men and women respectively. Enjoyment of life was also assessed using the CASP-19 (Control, Autonomy, Self-realization, and Pleasure) score.
Confounding factors like smoking, chronic illness, and alcohol intake were also asked for. About 75% and 60% of the participants were either married or living with a partner. The mean age was 64-65 years.
Of course, the correlations could be reverse: the lower libido and erectile function could be because of the unseen disease process already at work in the body, even though undiagnosed.
Lower sexual interest in women is possibly related to post-menopausal low hormone levels, and also due to the increased lifespan in women which makes them more likely to survive the death of their spouse, at which point they generally find it difficult to get new partners.
How it happens;
Of course, sex does produce a surge of endorphins which makes one feel elated. However, it’s not only about the feeling. More endorphin production also activates the immune system, helping the body fight off infections and cancers more effectively.
The intimacy that accompanies a sexually active partnership is no small part of the benefit, since emotionally close relationships are always linked to higher mental health.
And finally, the physical benefits of sex: it burns up about four calories a minute, which is a small gain for fitness.
Encourage old people to do it!
The importance of sex should be discussed with delicacy and tact with older people, encouraging them to try out newer ways as they become ever more comfortable with their partners.
While physical issues may limit certain positions that were normal before, they may need encouragement to experimentally find newer and more risk-free positions in which they can continue this important part of their normal lives.
Such education and discussion is often lacking, with both healthcare educators and providers shying away from the topic. However, this kind of openness is key to helping older couples live with more passion and health even as they age.
Journal reference: Sexual activity is associated with greater enjoyment of life in older adults. Lee Smith, Lin Yang, Nicola Veronese, Pinar Soysal, Brendon Stubbs, & Sarah E. Jackson. Sexual Medicine.