Americans are aging, fast. Older couples represent a larger slice of the population than ever, and the rate of sexual activity amongst older members of the community is on the rise too. Couples in their fifties, sixties, seventies, and beyond are remaining sexually active longer than ever, and are reporting higher levels of sexual satisfaction later into life. This correlates with higher levels of satisfaction in life generally, as well as better physical and mental health, more positivity, and even extended lifespan.
So, what do they know that we don’t?
Later in adulthood, sex begins to change. There seems to be less urgency and less sexual energy, often due to the onset of illnesses and injury. It’s very common for most men to experience some degree of erectile dysfunction at some point, and women suffer from increasing levels of dryness, sensitivity, and inorgasmia, all of which can make sex less desirable, even with lubricants.
You might be tempted to think, then, that sex would be a non-entity later in life, but the truth is just the opposite: while sex is less frequent, it is often reported to be more satisfying. Many older couples say their sex is better than ever, even if they’re having less of it, proving that quantity doesn’t equal quality.
How do older couples maintain that great sex? Sonoma State University in California conducted some research to find out what’s up.
In their analysis of the results from over 9,000 respondents to the survey, the researchers divided responses into four groups:
- Low frequency, low satisfaction (low-low, 3,985 respondents)
- Low frequency, high satisfaction (low-high, 1,065)
- High frequency, low satisfaction (high-low, 951)
- High frequency, high satisfaction (high-high, 3,163,)
The researches focused in on two of these groups, the low-lows and the high-highs, and filtered out those with corresponding medical problems so that the results could stand on their own. The low-low group was predominantly male—48 percent of the men who responded to the survey, and 38 percent of the women. The high-high group was predominantly female—38 percent of the women, and 33 percent of the men.
Low Frequency, Low Satisfaction
The reasons for a low amount of unsatisfying sex were strongly associated with:
- Differences in desire, in which one partner wants sex significantly more than the other.
- Boredom, and the numbing effect of routine, where repeated behaviours stop being fun.
- The lack of communication between partners after a certain age mean a dissonance can develop between them.
- No preparatory mood-setting makes sex feel perfunctory.
- Emotional distance and chronic relationship tensions. These kill desire and impair performance.
- Low-low elders tended to have long histories of sexual dissatisfaction with each other.
- Mythology. When one partner says, “I/we are too old for sex,” the other feels alienated.
High Frequency, High Satisfaction
What were the factors among elders that enhanced the levels and satisfaction of sex?
- Couples who were able to negotiate the frequency and longevity of sexual encounters could live with more or less more comfortably.
- New and different stimulation encourages the release of dopamine. This can be provoked by sex in new places, or new types or techniques.
- Conversations about intimacy and sex encouraged both.
- Mood-setting techniques including candles and music, for example, and saying “I love you”, translated to better sex.
- Active mood-setting. High-high couples were big on candles, background, music, laughter, and saying, “I love you.”
- Couples that were high-high when young usually maintained it as they aged.
- In high-high couples, both spouses believed sex was important to the relationship, and neither unilaterally withdrew from lovemaking because of age or other reasons.
Taking lessons from older generations can help current generations learn to explore and embrace their intimacy. As is so often the case in sex, the key seems to be communication: the better the ability to talk about issues and desires, the better the sex. And it’s at this point where younger couples typically falter.