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Never Too Old? Sexuality in Later Life

By Suzanna Smith, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

Reviewed by Martie Gillen, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

Decades ago, teenage girls swooned when Elvis swiveled his hips and sang “I’m all shook up,” responding with excited screams to his sex appeal. Today, much less is left to the imagination, as explicit song lyrics and provocative ads aim to attract a youthful audience. But what happens as people age? Do they ever get “all shook up,” or do they simply lose interest?

Recent research in the Journal of Marriage and Family focuses on this topic of aging and sexuality.  Not surprisingly, both mid-life married couples ages 50-69 and those in later life, ages 70-86, reported that they had experienced changes in their sex lives over time.  However, though they were sexually intimate less often, they also felt more satisfied, emotionally and physically .

There were differences between age groups. Mid-life couples seemed somewhat focused on physical issues, becoming distressed when age-related physical changes impacted their sex lives. In contrast, later-life couples felt that emotional intimacy and companionship were more important than sexual intimacy.

Gender differences also seemed to change and evolve as the decades passed. Midlife husbands were concerned about performing and held back from initiating sex, while some midlife wives worried about their appearance. On the other hand, older couples were more similar to each other in the ways they approached sexual expression; as a result, they experienced less conflict over sex .

It can be difficult to generalize from a small study like this one. What we can safely say, though, is that sexual experiences change over the life course, sometimes in unexpected ways.  As the US population continues to age, we will keep learning about different aspects of their lives, including sexuality. For more on sexuality as we age, visit the links in Further Reading.

Further Reading:

Sexuality in Later Life–from NIH

5 Myths About Sex and Aging–from the AARP

Healthy Aging: Sexual Health–from Womenshealth.gov

Reference:

Lodge, A. C. & Umberson, D. (2012). All shook up: Sexuality of mid- to later life married couples. Journal of Marriage and Family, 74, 428-443.

(Originally published in a slightly different form as: Smith, S. (2012). Sex in midlife and old age. [Radio broadcast episode]. Family Album Radio. Gainesville, FL:  University of Florida.)