Older adult sexuality: Myth vs. Fact

Myth: Most older adults are not interested in or able to have enjoyable sex.
Fact: Most older adults are interested in sex, and many lead active sex lives and
enjoy sexual activity. This claim is supported by the following results from a survey of
over 10,000 people (42% responding)

                     Aged 50-59         Aged 60-69         Aged 70 and older
Sexually Active*                              
   Women        93%                         81%                         65%
    Men            98%                         91%                         79%

Sexually Active, reporting sexual activity at least once a week*                              
   Women        73%                         63%                         50%
   Men             90%                         73%                         58%

Sexually Active, reporting a high level of sexual enjoyment*                              
   Women        71%                         65%                         61%
   Men             90%                         86%                         75%
* Includes sex with a partner or alone [self-pleasuring]

Myth: Older adults are unattractive and not sexually desirable.
Fact: How attractive someone is depends on whom you ask. If the US cultural ideal of
attractiveness (like that conveyed in the popular media) is taken as a measuring stick,
then hardly any of us could consider ourselves attractive. The fact is, our society has
unrealistic ideals as far as attractiveness goes. Older adults seem to realize this, and
to recognize truly attractive characteristics in other older adults.

Myth: Older adults do not have to worry about contracting sexually transmitted
diseases like HIV/AIDS.
Fact: Older adults who are having sex with people other than life partners have to
worry about STDs just as much as younger adults in the same situation, and they
should be practicing safer sex by using either a male or a female condom. There are
about 75,000 individuals in the US who are over the age of 50 and diagnosed with
[5]. This is approximately 10% of the total number of cases in the US [5].
Unfortunately this statistic is also on the rise
[5]. To find out more, check out the NIA's
older people and HIV/AIDS page.

Myth: Older gay and lesbian individuals have trouble dealing with aging because they
can no longer find acceptable partners who are willing to have sex with them.
Fact: Like heterosexual people, gay men and lesbian women are likely to have
satisfying sex lives with age-appropriate partners through their old age
[1]. It has even
been postulated that gay men and lesbian women are better equipped to defy
negative stereotypes about sex and aging, because they are used to dealing with
negative stereotypes about their sexuality
[1]. One study found that, of 100 lesbian
women surveyed, 66 were still sexually active, and most of those who were not
sexually active said it was not by choice

Myth: Older women are even less interested in sex than older men.
Fact: It is likely that the disparity between sexual activity with a partner found in older
men versus that in older women is not due mainly to any difference in sex drive, but
rather to the fact that women typically outlive men
[4]. Additionally, although it is
relatively acceptable for a man to date and marry a woman many years his younger,
the same cannot be said for older women
[4]. Because of this, older men generally still
have sexual partners, whereas most older widowed women do not. In 1992, more
than 48% of all women over the age of 65 were widowed, while only 15% of men over
65 fell into this same category

  1. Berger, R., & Kelly, J. (1992). The older gay many. In B. Berzon (Ed.), Positively Gay. Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts.
  2. Brecher, E. (1984). Love, Sex, and Aging. Boston: Little, Brown/Consumer Reports.
  3. Butler, R., & Lewis, M. (1993). Love and sex after 60. New York: Ballantine.
  4. Byer, C., Shainberg, L., & Galliano, G. (1999). Dimensions of Human Sexuality. Boston: McGraw-Hill College.
  5. HIV, AIDS, and Older People - Age Page - Health Information. http://www.nih.gov/nia/health/agepages/aids.htm
    (December 6, 2000).
  6. Kehoe, M. (1989). Lesbians over 60 speak for themselves. Journal of Homosexuality 16 (3-4).
Reprinted with permission