The great comedian George Burns was quoted as saying, “Sex at age 90 is like trying to shoot pool with a rope.”
Indeed, there seems to be a general assumption that as you age, sex fades. Fortunately, however, that’s not true. In a 2011 study, researchers found that more than half of individuals age 60 and older were sexually active. In a recent AARP survey, nearly two-thirds of older respondents said they were still interested in sex.
That’s a good thing because staying sexually active as you move into your golden years can help you feel healthier with more vitality than you might otherwise.
It’s true that seniors may have some issues that make sex more difficult. After menopause, many women struggle with vaginal dryness, low desire, and pelvic floor dysfunction while men may struggle with erectile dysfunction and low libido. Talking to a doctor about these issues can be worthwhile, however, as there are treatments available that can make sex more enjoyable again.
It’s a myth that all seniors struggle, however, particularly as more people live longer lives and remain healthy far into their golden years. What’s normal at 65, 75 and even 85 isn’t the same as it used to be with John Glenn returning to space at age 77, Clint Eastwood putting out critically acclaimed movies into his 80 and Betty White continuing to make audiences laugh well into her 90s.
There are even many ways that sex can improve with age. Men have better control, which can help them maintain an erection longer than they could in their younger years. Women often feel more confident and self-aware and, after menopause, no longer have to worry about pregnancy. An empty nest and relaxed work schedules can contribute to a heightened feeling of romance, and a loss of old inhibitions can also make sex more playful and experimental, bringing new delights into the bedroom.
In a study by the National Commission on Aging (NCOA), researchers found that women described sex over the age of 70 as or more satisfying than sex in their 40s while both genders said it was more emotionally satisfying than it had been in their younger years.
In response to the survey, the Senior Citizen’s Guide magazine noted, “It helps to 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.”
10 Ways an Active Sex Life Benefits Health in Seniors
1. Improves Sleep
You’ve heard that a good night’s sleep is good for your health. Sleeping through the night can be harder as you get older, however. The National Sleep Foundation notes that changes in sleep patterns are part of the normal aging process and that, as people age, they “tend to have a harder time falling asleep and more trouble staying asleep than when they were younger.”
Seniors still need a good quality 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night, though, to remain healthy and increase their odds of avoiding heart disease, cancer, and early death. Research suggests that having sex before bed can help you fall asleep as long as both partners reach orgasm. This releases the hormone oxytocin, which influences sleep.
One study from Australia found that 64 percent of participants slept better when they had sex with their partners and an orgasm. Lead author Dr. Michele Lastella encouraged couples to substitute screen time for “play time,” noting that during sex, “you’re not thinking about what to do the next day, and you’re not going through your phones. It distracts you.”
Many seniors struggle with daily aches and pains that can affect the quality of life significantly. According to a 2017 study, depression and chronic pain are “highly prevalent” in elderly populations.
An active sex life can help because when couples have sexual intercourse, the body releases hormones that help increase a person’s pain threshold. In one study on a woman’s G-spot, researchers found that pressure in that area elevated pain thresholds by more than 47 percent, and pleasurable stimulation increased it by more than 80 percent. An actual orgasm increased it by 108 percent.
Sex researcher Beverly Whipple, Ph.D., reported in her findings that an orgasm can relieve arthritis and post-operative pain temporarily.
3. Reduces Risk of Cancer in Men
As men age, their risk for prostate problems, including enlarged prostate and prostate cancer, increase. The American Cancer Society states that about one man in nine will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in his lifetime.
Some studies have suggested that frequent ejaculation — from either sex or masturbation — could have a protective effect against prostate cancer. In research involving nearly 30,000 men, scientists found that men who ejaculated more often had a lower risk of developing prostate cancer than those who ejaculated less frequently. Those who reported eight to 12 ejaculations per month in their 40s had a 10 percent reduction in risk while those who reported 13 to 20 ejaculations per month in their 40s had a 20 percent reduction.
Sex could be one of the most enjoyable anti-aging activities. In a 2013 study, researchers found that monogamous sex had benefits that could make men and women look between 5 and 7 years younger. These benefits included:
- Releases “feel-good” endorphins
- Reduces anxiety
- Boosts circulation
- Releases human growth hormone, which makes skin look firmer
In the study, participants who looked younger than their age were actually having sex 50 percent more than their peers who didn’t.
In a later 2017 study, researchers found that having sex at least once a week slowed aging in women, actually increasing the length of their “telomeres” — those caps on DNA that serve as indicators of longevity. The longer the telomeres, the longer the lifespan.
Another study that followed more than 900 men between the ages of 49 and 59 found that those having two or more orgasms a week had 50 percent lower mortality rates.
Exercise remains a critical part of a healthy lifestyle as we age, and sex can be an effective workout. Though it may not burn as many calories as taking that long walk or bike ride, it’s still rated as “moderately intense,” burning up to 4.2 calories a minute in men and 3.1 in women, according to a 2013 study. During an average 25-minute encounter, men burned about 100 calories and women about 70.
Sex also tends to work a lot of muscles. According to one study, having sex calls on 657 muscles while sprinting to the bus uses only 99.
6. Protects the Brain
The Alzheimer’s Association states that age is the strongest known risk factor for dementia. After the age of 65, a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia doubles roughly every 5 years.
Some studies have found that sex may actually be good for the brain. In 2017, researchers found that people who engaged in more regular sexual activity scored higher on tests that measured verbal fluency (with word tests) and visual-spatial ability. An earlier animal study also showed that frequent sex helped the brain grow new neurons, which is vital to brainpower and brain health.
Seniors are at risk for depression, and those who do suffer from it are more at risk for other problems like poor functioning, poor health and increased risk of mortality. As people age, they go through a lot of changes that can leave them feeling blue, including losing loved ones, retirement, medical problems, and financial difficulties.
Studies have suggested that sex can help increase mental health. It eases stress — inducing muscle relaxation — increases the release of hormones that promote good mood, reduces feelings of isolation, which can lead to depression, and helps people feel closer to their partners. Sex can also increase self-esteem, making individuals feel physically nurtured and desired.
Sexual activity triggers changes in the body that activate the immune system, boosting its activity temporarily. In a 2004 study, researchers found that sexual arousal and orgasm increased the number of “leukocytes” in the blood, in particular, natural killer cells, which help, get rid of bacteria and viruses. Researchers concluded that “components of the innate immune system are activated by sexual arousal and orgasm.”
Researchers from Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre also found that people who had sex once or twice a week experienced an increase in levels of immunoglobulin A (IgA), an immune protein that helps fight infections.
Sex or related activities like touching and massage release stress and encourage relaxation, which can lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This hormone suppresses the immune system, so anything that reduces stress — like having sex — can help restore robust immune action.
According to a 2014 study, couples who have been together for decades report higher levels of marital satisfaction when they remain sexually active. Even if they were only cuddling, kissing and hugging, these forms of affection improved the relationship. Indeed, these types of behaviors stimulate the body to release oxytocin, also called the “cuddle hormone,” which promotes feelings of attachment and trust.
An earlier study also found that women with more active and satisfying sexual relationships reported consistently higher ratings of emotional and relationship satisfaction. The scientists noted that the “heightened sense of well-being potentially contributes to improved subjective health and other positive outcomes.”
Can sex really make you happier? Some studies have shown that it can. In a 2013 report, those having sex two or three times a week were 33 percent happier than those who hadn’t had sex at all in the past year. An earlier study found similar results — elderly couples with active sex lives tended to be happier overall — both in their relationships and in general.
Other studies have indicated the “quality” of the encounters matter more than the quantity, however. In one experiment detailed in a Carnegie Mellon report, couples that were instructed to double their sexual frequency actually reported less happiness and reduced well-being than those who were allowed to continue on their own schedule.
American Cancer Society. (n.d.). Key Statistics for Prostate Cancer | Prostate Cancer Facts. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/prostate-cancer/about/key-statistics.html
BBC News | Health | Sex: The cold cure. (1999, April 14). Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/319070.stm
Berkeley Wellness. (2017, June 28). Can Frequent Sex Prevent Prostate Cancer? Retrieved from http://www.berkeleywellness.com/self-care/sexual-health/article/can-sex-prevent-prostate-cancer
Bunis, D. (2018, May 3). Older Sex: Two-Thirds of Adults Over 65 Still Interested. Retrieved from https://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2018/older-sex-sexual-health-survey.html
Carter, C. (2013, July 5). Sex is the secret to looking younger, claims researcher. Retrieved from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/lifestyle/10161279/Sex-is-the-secret-to-looking-younger-claims-researcher.html
Castleman, M. (2016, July 14). Would More Sex Really Make You Happier? Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/all-about-sex/201607/would-more-sex-really-make-you-happier
DiNuzzo, E. (2017, December 6). Sex before bed might be the key to a good night’s sleep? But there’s a catch. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/sex-before-bed-better-sleep-2017-12
Frappier, J., Toupin, I., Levy, J. J., Aubertin-Leheudre, M., & Karelis, A. D. (2013). Energy Expenditure during Sexual Activity in Young Healthy Couples. PLoS ONE, 8(10), e79342. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0079342
Gerson, M. N. (2014, May 12). How Orgasm Could Dull Pain. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/05/how-orgasm-could-dull-pain/361470/
Glasper, E. R., & Gould, E. (2013). Sexual experience restores age-related decline in adult neurogenesis and hippocampal function. Hippocampus, 23(4), 303-312. doi:10.1002/hipo.22090
Haake, P., Krueger, T. H., Goebel, M. U., Heberling, K. M., Hartmann, U., & Schedlowski, M. (2004). Effects of Sexual Arousal on Lymphocyte Subset Circulation and Cytokine Production in Man. Neuroimmunomodulation, 11(5), 293-298. doi:10.1159/000079409
In Pain? Have an Orgasm. (2017, November 17). Retrieved from https://www.everydayhealth.com/sexual-health/pain-have-gasm/
Kalra, G., Pinto, C., & Subramanyam, A. (2011). Sexuality: Desire, activity and intimacy in the elderly. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 53(4), 300. doi:10.4103/0019-5545.91902
Nadeau, B. L. (2015, January 31). Sex and the Senior Citizen: How the Elderly Get It On. Retrieved from https://www.thedailybeast.com/sex-and-the-senior-citizen-how-the-elderly-get-it-on
NAMS. (2016, November 9). More women sexually active into old age. Retrieved from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-11/tnam-mws110816.php
National Sleep Foundation. (n.d.). Aging and Sleep. Retrieved from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/aging-and-sleep
Padayachey, U., Ramlall, S., & Chipps, J. (2017). Depression in older adults: prevalence and risk factors in a primary health care sample. South African Family Practice, 59(2), 61-66. doi:10.1080/20786190.2016.1272250
Rider, J. R., Wilson, K. M., Sinnott, J. A., Kelly, R. S., Mucci, L. A., & Giovannucci, E. L. (2016). Ejaculation Frequency and Risk of Prostate Cancer: Updated Results with an Additional Decade of Follow-up. European Urology, 70(6), 974-982. doi:10.1016/j.eururo.2016.03.027
Scott, P. S. (n.d.). Sex After 50 – Health Benefits of Sex. Retrieved from https://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2014/sex-after-50.html#slide7
Senior Citizen’s Guide. (n.d.). Sex After 60: A Natural Part of Life. Retrieved from https://www.seniorcitizensguide.com/articles/activities/sex-after-60.html
Sex A Significant Predictor Of Happiness Among Married Seniors. (2011, November 21). Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/237994.php
Smith, G. D., Frankel, S., & Yarnell, J. (1997). Sex and death: are they related? Findings from the Caerphilly cohort study. BMJ, 315(7123), 1641-1644. doi:10.1136/bmj.315.7123.1641
The surprising health benefits of having more sex. (2017, June 27). Retrieved from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/health-fitness/body/surprising-health-benefits-having-sex/
Thompson, A. (2017, July 13). Having sex once a week slows aging in women. Retrieved from https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-4688716/Having-sex-week-slows-aging-women.html
Wright, H., Jenks, R. A., & Demeyere, N. (2017). Frequent Sexual Activity Predicts Specific Cognitive Abilities in Older Adults. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B. doi:10.1093/geronb/gbx065
Zis, P., Daskalaki, A., Bountouni, I., Sykioti, P., Varrassi, G., & Paladini, A. (2017). Depression and chronic pain in the elderly: links and management challenges. Clinical Interventions in Aging, Volume 12, 709-720. doi:10.2147/cia.s113576