IN THE SHEETS

Sex and the Senior Citizen: How the Elderly Get It On

They myth that you can’t or shouldn’t have sex past a certain age needs to stop.

01.31.15 8:50 PM ET

If the thought of two nude octogenarians tangled up in the sheets doesn’t make you cringe, chances are you have reached a level of maturity when sex after a certain age seems like a pretty good idea.  And, according to a recent study published in the Guardian and countless ageing sex symbols, you aren’t alone. Celebrities like Florence Henderson, 80, told Page Six she has a “friend with benefits” and Jane Fonda told Italy’s RAI television talk show last week that sex is important to her. “I’m 77,” she said.  “If I never have sex again it will be sad.”

According to the Longitudinal Study of Ageing of 7,000 British subjects, more than 31 percent of British men in the 80 to 90 age bracket still masturbate and have sex. That compares to just under 60 percent of men between 70 and 80, which is still an impressive figure. British women aren’t nearly as frisky, according to the report, with only 14 percent of women between 80 and 90 and 34 percent of women between 70 and 80 regularly engaging in sex or self-gratification.

A similar study in the United States conducted several years ago by the Indiana University’s Center for Sexual Health Promotion found similar results among American seniors. While the American study divides its age group differently, the resounding result is that sex among the senior set is important, with 46 percent of men and 33 percent of women over 70 reporting that they masturbate, and 43 percent of men and 22 of women in the same age bracket saying they engage in sexual intercourse. 

Surprisingly, perhaps, is that the American survey also notes that for over 70 age bracket, 24 percent of men and just 7 percent of women performed oral sex on their heterosexual partners in the last year, compared to the under 40 set where 59 percent of women and 69 percent of men engaged in oral sex on the opposite sex partners for the same time frame. “Many older adults continue to have active pleasurable sex lives, reporting a range of different behaviors and partner types,” say the authors do not specifically differentiate between gay and straight couples but whose sexual behaviors are listed by gender activity for both the givers and receivers.

In a study by the National Commission on Aging (NCOA), women, in particular, find sex over 70 as or more satisfying than, say, in their 40s, with 62 percent saying it is “at least as satisfying or more satisfying physically” than it was in their 40s.  Sex is more emotionally satisfying for both genders as well though 40 percent of men over 70 say they would like more sex than they are currently getting (only four percent would like less.)

According to the Senior Citizens Guide, understanding sex after 70 is important. “The NCOA survey reveals a side of aging that's long been overlooked, and often misunderstood—the side of mature sexuality,” the magazine states with an explainer on the findings. “It helps erase the long-held myth that aging inevitably dampens the desire, and that older people are not interested in—or able to have—sex. In fact, the survey shows that older Americans—men and women alike—believe sex can and should remain a vital part of their lives long into older adulthood.”

One of the big problems with senior sex has apparently been the elder set’s unwillingness to protect themselves against sexually transmitted diseases. The Indiana study showed that condom use was among the lowest in people over 60, presumably because pregnancy concerns are no longer an issue. But in 2012, Medicare allowed for free annual screenings for senior citizens for Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis.

While the study results may run the gamut from fascinating (for older horn-dogs) to cringe-worthy (for grandchildren), not everyone is impressed with studying sex among seniors. Writing onTruthDig managing editor scolds the media for being surprised that old people still engage in coitus. “For years now we’ve heard about randy grandparents getting nasty in the old folks home. Yet studies of septuagenarian sex continue to make the news as if it’s weird, shocking or gross,” he writes. ‘It’s blatant ageism against the canasta class.”