Old People Behaving Badly

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Last week, a friend in his mid 60’s approached me who knew about my undergraduate studies in sexual behavior.  He was wondering at what age he was likely to stop having sex.  It caught me as odd because he seems spry, but this is not as uncommon a question as you’d think. Most people assume that sex stops after some vague age.

Here is a statistic you can’t unlearn:  Last week, more than half of those aged 57 to 75 said they gave or received oral sex.  Yes, Grandpa went south on Grandma, and in return she gobbled Grandpa’s knob.

It doesn’t stop at 75 either.  Over a third of 75 to 85 year olds also partook of the carnal pleasures of the flesh.

An unprecedented study of sex and seniors finds that many older people are surprisingly frisky. They are willing to do, talk about, and even demonstrate intimate acts that would make their grandchildren blush.

That may be too much information for some folks. Granny bouncing on Grandpa naked in the bedroom is enough to get most of us to plug our ears and say, “LALALALALA, I DON’T WANT TO KNOW.”

However, we all are getting older, and why should the youth of the world be the only ones enjoying their partners?  As expected, sex and interest in it do fall off when people are in their 70s, but more than a quarter of those up to age 85 reported still being sexually active.

And the drop-off has a lot to do with declining health or lack of a partner, not due to age.

The federally funded study, done by respected scientists and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, overturns some stereotypical notions that physical pleasure is just a young person’s game.

Some results:

  • Sex with a partner in the previous year was reported by 73 percent of people ages 57 to 64; 53 percent of those ages 64 to 75, and 26 percent of people 75 to 85. Of those who were active, most said they did it two to three times a month or more.
  • Women at all ages were less likely to be sexually active than men, but they also lacked partners as far more were widowed.
  • People whose health was excellent or very good were nearly twice as likely to be sexually active as those in poor or fair health.
  • Half of people having sex reported at least one related problem. Most common in men was erection trouble (37 percent); in women, low desire (43 percent), vaginal dryness (39 percent) and inability to have an orgasm (34 percent).
  • One out of seven men used Viagra or similar substances to improve sex.


Sexual problems can be a warning sign of diabetes, infections, cancer or other health woes. Untreated sex issues can lead to depression and social withdrawal, and people may even stop taking needed medications because of sexual side effects, the researchers wrote.

“This subject has been taboo for so long that many older people haven’t even talked to their spouses about their sexual problems, let alone a physician,” said the lead author, Dr. Stacy Tesser Lindau, a University of Chicago gynecologist.

Researchers also used state-of-the-art technology and products donated by several companies to test people’s senses. Taste strips were used to see if people could distinguish between various tastes (sour, salty). Special devices were used to test the ability to smell certain scents, including a suspected pheromone — a smell thought to evoke sexual responses.

Niels Teunis, an anthropologist and researcher at the Institute of Sexuality, Social Inequality, and Health at San Francisco State University, said the survey bolsters the “use it or lose it” factor seen in previous studies.

Jack Menager, 83, and his wife, Elizabeth, 84, say they have had a good sex life for nearly 60 years. “If you are doing it, you keep doing it. If you slack off in marriage like when you’re in your 40s, it’s hard to pick it up when you are older.”

The couple takes twice-daily walks, drinks wine in moderation and talks a lot, said his wife. “I think it’s important,” she said of sex. “It just makes you feel close.”

Menopause has a big effect on women, and the drop-off of estrogen makes many of them less interested in sex, Dr. John Bancroft of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction at Indiana University wrote in an accompanying editorial.

But menopause also means women no longer have to worry about getting pregnant, and many have more time and feel freer after children are gone.

The more you have sex, the better you will feel, no matter what age you are.  Sex keeps you feeling young, feeling healthy, and is just plain fun. As long as you are still healthy enough to take walks, you are healthy enough to have sex.  Just be gentle and avoid breaking a hip.