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Americans Reveal Truth About How Aging Affects Their Sex Lives

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Never “Too Old,” But Maybe Too Shy to Tell Your Doctor

Remember how “grossed out” you once were when you learned that your parents had sex? The reality is that while different than in their youth, lots of older Americans continue to be sexually active, despite a high rate of so-called bothersome problems.

To explore the issues surrounding intimacy as we age, I spoke with Linda J. Waite, PhD, the Lucy Flower Professor in Urban Sociology at the University of Chicago, who recently was involved in conducting a study of sex and older adults, including seniors. She assured me that sex continues to be important to many older people. Given that sales of “ED” drugs for men are so high, I was surprised to hear that the research found that most people don’t discuss these matters with their doctors. Researchers report that just 38% of men and 22% of women had spoken to their doctor about sexual health or activity since turning 50. Dr. Waite says she hopes her study will inspire more seniors to discuss sexual concerns with their doctors — and more doctors to raise the issue with older patients.

SENIORS SAY: LET’S DO IT

The researchers interviewed 3,005 men and women ages 57 to 85 years old. They found that…

  • Most older people are sexually active with a partner, although the percentage declines significantly with age — 73% of those ages 57 to 64… 53% of those 65 to 74… and 26% of those 75 to 85.
  • In the survey, women were more likely than men to rate sex as unimportant (35% versus 13%), and less likely overall than the men in the survey to be sexually active. Men die younger and women are less likely to have partners as they grow older, Dr. Waite notes.
  • About half of sexually active seniors reported at least one bothersome sexual problem. In women, these included low desire (43%), vaginal dryness (39%) and inability to climax (34%). Men (37%) most frequently complained of erectile difficulties, and 14% of men surveyed used medication or supplements to improve function.

TALK TO YOUR PHYSICIAN

A contributor to the problem may be that doctors don’t ask older people about sexual concerns as a routine part of a visit, observes Dr. Waite. The take-home message: Don’t be shy about bringing up sexual issues with your physician. Your overall health is more relevant to sexuality than age alone… and even if you face obstacles relating to the passing of the years, these can often be addressed so you can enjoy a fuller and more satisfying sex life… at any age.

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Source:
Linda J. Waite, PhD, the Lucy Flower Professor in Urban Sociology, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois.
Date: April 3, 2008 Publication: Bottom Line Health
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