The elderly need it as much as the younger lot, it looks like. A study in the Annals of Internal Medicine shows that about one-third of Australian men in their 70s, 80s, and 90s are sexually active and some wish to have sex more often.
"Although many people, including some doctors, believe that sexuality isn't important to older people, our study shows that this is not the case. Even in the tenth decade of life, 1 in 5 men still considered sex important," said study researcher Zoe Hyde, a doctoral researcher with the Western Australian Centre for Health and Ageing at the University of Western Australia. "However, some common medical problems are barriers to older people remaining sexually active," Hyde said.
The Australian study comes after studies in the United States and Sweden have shown that many or most people in their 70s lead active sex lives, and have found high levels of sexual satisfaction among this group, sometimes even exceeding that of their younger years.
Of 3,274 men aged 75 to 95 who were interviewed three times over a 13-year time period, 2,783 provided information about their sex lives and had their hormone levels measured. Almost one-third of these men were still sexually active, which was defined as having at least one sexual encounter in the past year. Sex frequency decreased with advancing age, with men in their 70s having more sex than their counterparts in their 90s, the study showed.
Nearly half of the sexually active seniors in the study said they would like to have more sex, more often.
Of those who were still sexually active, more than forty percent wished to have more, but were blocked, often by their own health problems or their partners' problems, including conditions such as osteoporosis, diabetes, prostate cancer or other physical limitations.
Men who wish to be sexually active late in life can take some preventative steps in their younger years, Hyde said.
"Chronic disease, such as diabetes, appears to be the main reason that older men cease being sexually active," she told MyHealthNewsDaily. "If men want to remain sexually active as they age, the best thing they can do is get sufficient physical activity, eat a healthy and nutritious diet and stop smoking."
Hyde said the study has also highlighted other things that may help people who are older stay sexually active if they wish.
"It was interesting that testosterone levels were still associated with sexual activity, after we controlled for medical problems and social factors," she said. "This suggests that testosterone deficiency could possibly cause problems for some men, so this is an area that clinical trials of testosterone therapy should look at."
The study did find that testosterone levels were related to sexual activity.
• But "it would be premature to suggest testosterone therapy to improve sexual interest and activity in older men for whom lack of interest is a problem at this stage," Hyde says. "We need controlled trials to confirm this relationship, and to properly explore both the potential benefits and risks of therapy."
• The findings are consistent with what American Geriatrics society president Sharon Brangman, MD, the chief of the division of geriatrics at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, N.Y., sees in her practice. Although the new study took place in Australia, Brangman feels it is relevant to men in the U.S. -- and likely to older women as well.
• "I have patients in their 70s and 80s who I know are sexually active, but we seem to have a stereotype that old people are not sexually active," she says. The new study looked at men who live in the community, but sex and sexuality are also part of life in nursing homes, she says.
• Men and women in their 70s and beyond are limited by medication side effects, chronic diseases -- especially diabetes and hypertension, and the availability of a partner, she says.
• "Women live longer than men, so there is a paucity of available men, and when there are available men, they can be very active," she says. All of the erectile dysfunction drugs have been helpful for men unless they have heart disease or other problems that prevent them from taking these medications, she says.