Research has long shown that money worries sap sex, and with the recent unemployment scourge, yo-yoing 401(k)s and rampaging foreclosures, there's been no shortage in worries. To put it mildly, financial stress is probably hitting midlifers below the belt.
"Financial worries tend to seep into all parts of a couple's life together," says Dr. Pepper Schwartz, a sexologist at the University of Washington in Seattle and AARP's love and relationships ambassador. "It's hard for some people to feel warm and sexy when they are afraid of losing their home-or they have already lost their job! People complain of feeling distant, disconnected, and emotionally bound up."
Not surprisingly, more Americans believe that having a healthier bank account would get their home fires burning. The percentage of 45+ Americans who say that having better finances would make their sex lives more satisfying increased from 2004 to 2009 (from 17 to 26 percent among men, and 9 to 14 percent among women, respectively).
They're probably right: Healthy people with no financial worries and low stress levels (and, of course, a partner handy) have the most sex, and are most likely to say they have "extremely satisfying" sexual relationships.
Me, Myself, and I
What hasn't taken a hit from the money woes? Self-love.
Nearly one-quarter (22 percent) of all 45+ Americans say they engage in "self-stimulation" just about weekly (nearly identical to 2004), though men are more avid devotees than women. Among people in their 50s, about 42 percent of men and 15 percent of women say they indulge in self-stimulation "about once a week" or "more than once a week." The chips may be low, but as Sinatra sang, "they can't take that away from me."
(Don't) Put a Ring on It
It may be a cliche, but the survey did indeed find that single 45+ Americans who are dating have more sex (and better love lives all-round) than their married counterparts. They win for sheer frequency; 48 percent of singles with regular partners have sex at least once a week, compared to only 36 percent of married folks. It's no surprise that 60 percent say they're satisfied with their sex lives, compared to 52 percent of their hitched peers (and just 19 percent of the single-but-not-dating crowd). When it comes to a sizzling love life, finding a partner seems to trump marrying a spouse.
More likely, it trumps living with someone who has stopped trying. "When people are dating, they are 'auditioning'," says Dr. Schwartz. "Unfortunately, many long-term couples start to put away those little affectionate details and take each other for granted. They get functional about sex instead of seductive." Dating couples have a much different mindset, she says, "and it shows in their sexual satisfaction and happiness with one another."
For some, dating just one partner may be too limiting. "My sex life is even better than [it was] in my teens and 20s," says Carrie F., 50, who keeps a full dance card in Van Nuys, Calif., and isn't planning on settling for one beau any time soon. More options means she's never dateless, she points out. "If one of my partners is not available for whatever reason, I can always call another one."
Of course, a lot of married people are doing just fine and laugh at the notion that great sex and marriage don't endure. "I still find my sexual relationship with [my wife] Barbara to be largely the most wonderful activity of my life," says Ken M., 72, from Tacoma, Wash. "We have been married for over 50 years and continue to have sex nearly daily."