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The Secrets of Sex Over 40: 8 Questions Answered

New AARP survey reveals how often older adults have sex, and lots more


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Most older adults believe sex is an essential part of a healthy relationship, and more than half say their sex lives are as satisfying – or even better—than a decade ago. 

In a new AARP Research survey released Sept. 29, people over 40 got frank about what goes on in their lives – or doesn’t – when it comes to intimacy and sex. 

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For more detailed information on sex, relationships and intimacy among older adults, access the survey results for "Ageless Desire: Relationships and Sex in Middle Age and Beyond" here.

The survey “Ageless Desire: Relationships and Sex in Middle Age and Beyond” polled 2,500 people 40 and older about how perceptions, behaviors, attitudes and preferences about sexual experiences have changed over time. Three-quarters of survey respondents were over 50. 

Among the findings: 

  • 72 percent of men and 63 percent of women have a current regular sexual partner.
  • Less than half of those surveyed —46 percent—said they were satisfied with their current sex life. 
  • Four out of 5 people said their relationships were physically pleasurable and emotionally satisfying. 
  • Having sex with a stranger is the most common sexual fantasy for both men and women.

The report also found that over the past 20 years, the frequency of sex in this age group declined, but other types of sexual activity – like masturbation and oral sex – increased. 

“Sex doesn’t get any less important as we age,” says Patty David, AARP vice president of consumer insights. “It continues to be a vital part of a good relationship, which shows that intimacy and physical connection are important to all ages.”

Find out more about sexuality among older adults:   

1. How often do people in middle age and older have sex?

Older adults still have plenty of sex. Thirty percent told AARP researchers that they have sex weekly, 27 percent said monthly or less, and 40 percent reported having no sex in the last six months. One in 6 adults over 70 reported having sex weekly. 

When it comes to oral sex, the frequency is a bit less: 18 percent said they have oral sex weekly, 25 percent said monthly, and 54 percent said none in the past six months. 

But not everyone thinks they’re having enough sex: 46 percent said they were having the right amount, and 45 percent said they weren’t having enough. Men were more likely than women to say they’re not having enough sex, and women were more likely to say they were having just the right amount. 

Certified sex therapist and psychologist Stephanie Buehler says there are lots of ways to be sexual as an older adult and recommends people expand ideas about what it means to show affection in the bedroom.

“It’s about acceptance and adaptation,” says Buehler, author of Enliven Your Sex Life! “Stop worrying about what you can no longer do and explore to find out how you can still experience sexual pleasure at any age.”

spinner image frequency of sex among adults age forty plus forty percent reported not at all thirty percent reported weekly and twenty seven percent reported monthly or less out of the weekly and monthly or less group fifty five percent had sex within the past week then the age of adults who have sex weekly forty to forty nine report forty four percent group fifty to fifty nine report thirty four percent group sixty to sixty nine report twenty five percent and age seventy plus report sixteen percent
AARP

2. Do men and women differ in their levels of sexual desire? 

Overall, 55 percent of those surveyed said they considered their sexual desire about average, 15 percent said higher than average and 29 percent said lower than average. 

But men were more likely than women to rate their level of sexual desire as higher than average. Women were more likely to rate their level of sexual desire as lower than average. 

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3. How frequently do older adults masturbate?

The survey found that 55 percent of people reported pleasuring themselves in the past six months. Among those who did masturbate, 61 percent did so within the past week. About one in 4 pleasure themselves weekly, but that number decreases as age rises: Only 11 percent of people age 70 and older reported masturbating in the previous week, compared with 40 percent of those ages 40-49.

“Masturbation is natural and shouldn’t produce feelings of guilt or embarrassment,” says Buehler, adding that it also can be helpful if your partner doesn’t want as much sexual activity as you do.

One in 3 people reported using a vibrator for personal enjoyment, though women were more likely to say they were using one compared with men, at 42 percent versus 18 percent. People who identified as nonheterosexual were also more likely to report using a vibrator for self-stimulation (66 percent compared with 28 percent of those identifying as heterosexual).

4. How common is infidelity after midlife?

Fourteen percent of people reported being unfaithful, according to the survey. Seventeen percent of men said they’d had a sexual relationship with someone other than their partner, compared with 11 percent of women.

The reasons? For both men and women, the novelty of sex with someone other than their partner was tops. Men were more likely than women to say they were interested in sexual activities that their partner wasn’t interested in. For women, the answers trended toward feeling unappreciated by their partner and having a higher sex drive than their partner. 

A quarter of those surveyed also reported reasons for sex with someone besides their primary partners as consensual monogamy or polyamory. 

While many respondents reported that infidelity or suspected infidelity had a negative impact on their relationships, few people chose to end them because of it – only 4 percent did.  

After an affair, most relationships are strained but survive, Buehler says. 

“Repairing takes a lot of difficult conversations,” Buehler says, “as the person who had the affair spends time reflecting and the hurt partner takes time to understand the reasoning and heal.”

5. Is erectile dysfunction increasing?

The number of men who say they have difficulty with sexual function is growing. Just 4 in 10 men said they are always able to get and keep an erection for intercourse, down from half of men in 2009, according to AARP researchers.

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In fact, 28 percent of those men surveyed said they’ve been diagnosed with erectile dysfunction or impotence, up from 23 percent in 2009 and 17 percent in 2004. But many men are looking for help: 6 out of 10 men who said they had general sexual functioning problems reported that they sought treatment. 

Only 12 percent of women reported problems related to sexual functioning and more than half of those said they didn’t seek treatment because they didn’t feel comfortable discussing the issue. 

Health concerns, like diabetes, stress and high blood pressure can impact sexual functioning: 79 percent of those surveyed said they’d been diagnosed with a medical condition. 

6. Do older adults typically have a regular sex partner? 

The AARP survey found that two-thirds of people reported they had a regular sex partner. Younger respondents had the highest likelihood of reporting a regular sex partner, but even over age 70, a little more than half of people said they had someone they regularly engaged in sexual activity with. 

spinner image from a survey three out of five people agree that sexual activity is a critical part of a good relationship out of those sixty seven percent of men agree and fifty seven percent of women agree within age group forty to forty nine seventy two percent of people agree and within age group fifty plus fifty eight percent agree
AARP / Getty

7. Are sexual fantasies among older adults common? 

The answer is a resounding yes: 83 percent of those surveyed said they had sexual thoughts, fantasies or erotic dreams.

While having sex with a stranger was the most common fantasy for both genders, men’s fantasies included having sex with more than one person at a time, while women were more likely to say that they fantasized about having sex with someone of the same sex or having sex in different locations.

But people are keeping their fantasies to themselves: Roughly two-thirds said they hadn’t discussed them with others. 

8. What are the best ways to keep romance alive? 

The pandemic has had an impact on how people view their relationships. The survey found that 41 percent of older adults want an increased connection with their significant other, and 70 percent said they believe quality time and strong connections are more important now than before COVID-19.

However, the survey found that 31 percent of those divorced or never married are apt to say, “Romance? What’s that?”

Here’s how couples say they are keeping the romance going, according to the survey: 

  • 63 percent make a point of saying ‘I love you”
  • 57 percent celebrate special days like birthdays and anniversaries
  • 35 percent take a vacation or romantic trip annually
  • 32 percent set aside time to enjoy each other’s company
  • 30 percent buy each other gifts or flower

David, of AARP, notes that in many cases the impact of COVID-19 has been to highlight the importance of relationships with friends, family, spouses or romantic partners. “It has made our connections even stronger," she said. “Couple this with the importance of spending time with each other to keep the romance in the relationship and you have a powerful recipe for contentment and happiness."

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