Aging is generally associated with improvements in our quality of life: We become more proficient in our work, learn how to manage our finances better and our bonds with loved ones deepen. With time and practice, most of the core domains of our lives improve as we develop skills and strategies to manage our lives with more mastery. An exception to this pattern is the quality of our sex lives, which has consistently been reported to deteriorate with age.
While this fits with the messages we receive from popular culture, which tell us that sex is a young person’s domain, it is somewhat at odds with the fact that older adults continue to explore and enjoy sexuality well into old age. The majority of men and women over 60 in the U.S. are sexually active, most at least two to three times per month (more often than many younger adults). They also rate sex as an important part of life.
So, if there is no epidemic of age-related frigidity, why would sexual quality of life take a nosedive in later life? A common answer to this question cites declining physical health and sexual functioning with age. Another answer might be: The quality of our sex lives doesn’t decline with age.
Studying sex and aging
There is a key element missing from nearly all studies of sex and aging: studying change over time. If we ask a group of people how satisfied they are with their sex life, and the younger people are more satisfied than the older people, does that mean that aging is responsible for this difference? What if instead the apparent age difference is because people born in the 1930s have different attitudes toward sex than people who grew up after the sexual revolution of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s? [Read more…]