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Many U.S. seniors report having sex into their 80s

August 23, 2007, Chicago Tribune, Many U.S. seniors report having sex into their 80s, by Judy Peres.

Many Americans remain sexually active in their 70s and 80s and most view intimacy as an important part of life, according to a government-sponsored study released Wednesday.

The report, published in this week's New England Journal of Medicine, was the first to define what's typical among people ages 57 to 85, who make up the fastest-growing segment of the population.

"We have an unprecedented shift in the age of the U.S. population. People are living longer," said Dr. Stacy Tesser Lindau, of the University of Chicago, who led the study. "Many people have higher expectations for what aging should be like, and we spend billions on treating erectile problems. Yet we have no baseline data on sexuality in later life." Lindau said she hoped her findings would provide a frame of reference for older people who, until now, have often found it difficult to talk about their sexuality and perhaps improve communication between patients and doctors.

Although about two-thirds of sexually active seniors reported at least one bothersome problem in the area of sexual function, only 38 percent of men and 22 percent of women said they had discussed sex with a physician since turning 50. Lindau speculated the reason men were more likely to ask their doctors about sexual problems was the availability of such drugs as Viagra to treat them. There are no approved medications to treat sexual dysfunction in women.

Lindau said general health is a better predictor of sexual activity in seniors than age. "Even though older people are less likely to have a partner and less likely to have sex, it doesn't look like sex inevitably deteriorates with age," she said.

The project was the first comprehensive, nationally representative survey to assess the prevalence of sexual activity, behaviors and problems in older people.

Other studies have looked at sexuality in older people, especially men with erectile problems, Lindau said. But little was known about sex in older women. And most studies were done in groups of people who did not reflect the population as a whole.

The only other comprehensive, nationally representative study on sexuality was published in 1999 and covered Americans ages 18 to 59.

Among the findings of the current study, based on interviews with 3,005 people:

About three-quarters of those ages 57 to 85 are married or living with a partner, and three-quarters of those are sexually active.

The frequency of sexual activity declines only slightly from the 50s to the mid-70s.

Seniors were surprisingly willing to discuss their intimate lives with researchers.

"Participants were more likely to refuse questions about income than they were about sex," Lindau said.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Co. newspaper.

Copyright © 2007, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

sun-sentinel.com/features/health/sfl-flasex0823nbaug23,0,7313849.story

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