Dr. Lindau expects the study to help open a dialogue between older
patients and their doctors as older Americans were very receptive
to the survey and its questions. This openness suggests that, when
asked, many older people want to talk about this part of their
lives. ?We found, despite the high prevalence of problems, that
most older adults have never discussed sex with a physician. From
a medical and a public health perspective, we have an opportunity
and an obligation to do better patient education and counseling
about health-related and potentially preventable and treatable
sexual problems,? Dr. Lindau said.
The researchers gathered information from a nationally representative
sample of 3,005 men and women ages 57 to 85 years, asking about
each person?s marital or other relationship status, frequency and
types of sexual activity during the past 12 months, physical health,
and communication with a physician about sex. They also queried
sexually active respondents about the presence of sexual problems.
?This study breaks new ground in social and behavioral research,? said
Richard Suzman, Ph.D., director of NIA?s Behavioral and Social
Research Program. ?Its portrait of this aspect of older Americans? lives
suggests a previously uncharacterized vitality and interest in
sexuality that carries well into advanced age, which perhaps has
not been appreciated as an important part of late life.?
The study found that many older adults are sexually active, but
about half of the men and women surveyed reported at least one
sexual problem and about a third report at least two problems.
- In general, older adults are sexually active. A large
portion of respondents said they were sexually active in the
preceding 12 months, but the percentage declined with age — from
73 percent of those age 57 to 64, to 53 percent of those age
65 to 74, to 26 percent of those age 75 to 85. Older women, however,
were significantly less likely to report sexual activity than
older men and less likely to be in intimate relationships, due
in part to women?s status as widows and the earlier mortality,
on average, of men.
- Healthier people are more likely to report being sexually
active. Eighty-one percent of men and 51 percent of women
reporting excellent or very good health said they had been
sexually active in the past 12 months. Of those in fair or
poor health, a considerably lower percentage (47 percent of
men and 26 percent of women) reported activity in the previous
year. Diabetes and hypertension were strongly associated with
some sexual concerns.
- About half of sexually active older adults report at least
one ?bothersome? sexual problem. Thirty-seven percent
of sexually active men said they had erectile difficulties.
Women most often reported low desire (43 percent), difficulty
with vaginal lubrication (39 percent), and inability to climax
- Most older adults have not discussed sex with their doctors.
Despite the high prevalence of sexual problems, only 38 percent
of men and 22 percent of women said they had discussed sex with
a physician since age 50.