Originally created 08/05/99

Age doesn't deter sex life of older Americans



WASHINGTON -- Sex isn't just for the young. It's also for the young at heart, according to a survey that finds many older Americans continue to have active sex lives and find their partners attractive as they age.

The survey was conducted by the AARP, the nation's largest organization of older adults, for the September-October issue of its "Modern Maturity" magazine, devoted to the topic: "Great sex: What's age got to do with it?" The racy issue is part of AARP's campaign to attract aging baby boomers -- who led the 1960s sexual revolution -- as members.

"The biggest myth out there of all is the myth that old people don't have sex or aren't interested in sex -- that basically after a certain age you're supposed to go to Florida, play golf and wait for Ed McMahon to knock on the door and not to think or even do sex," said the magazine's editor, Hugh Delehanty. "We all know this is patently absurd and we wanted to look and see what the truth was."

The survey by the American Association of Retired Persons found that more than six in 10 men between the ages of 45 and 59 and a similar percentage of women in middle age report having sex at least once a week. One in four people over age 75 reported similar frequency.

The decline in sexual activity does not seem to be caused by a lack of physical attraction between couples as they age, the survey found.

About 59 percent of men between the ages of 45 and 74 say the phrase "physically attractive" strongly applies to their partner, while 62 percent of those over age 75 agree. About half of women in both middle and old age said physical attraction to their partner was strong.

What does seem to make the difference is lack of partners, who may be lost to death or divorce. While eight in 10 people aged 45 to 59 have sexual partners, only 58 percent of men and 21 percent of women aged 75 and older do.

However, changing morals may make this less of a constraint for the baby boomers than it is for their parents. While 66 percent of women age 75 and older think that people should not have sexual relationships if they are not married, only 36 percent of women aged 45 to 59 do.

"We are left to speculate how sexual behaviors and attitudes of those mid-life adults that we queried, who came of age during the sexual and gender revolutions of the 1960s, how their attitudes and behaviors will change as they age," said AARP's director of research, Constance Swank.

Declining health is the other thing holding older people back in the bedroom. More than half of men and a third of women said better health for themselves or their partners would improve their sex lives. Other changes that people said would help included less stress and more free time.

One in four men acknowledged being completely or moderately impotent, although despite the publicity of new treatments such as the drug Viagra, only 41 percent of them said they had sought medical help.

The survey of 1,384 adults age 45 and older was conducted by mail during March. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.