Steve Walsh and his wife, Linda (not their real names), last had sex in 2012. The Walshes married in 2003, raised three children in western Washington state and shared a deep Christian faith. Still, numerous challenges made their bedroom a no-sex zone. Linda survived breast cancer, but the medications lowered her libido. Steve also believes she suffers from undiagnosed depression. Over time their relationship deteriorated, and their sex life ended. The couple are now divorcing.
Steve, 58, is nervous about dating yet eager to end 10 years of agonizing celibacy. “I want so badly to have that closeness with someone,” he says. “I dream about it.”
A surprisingly high percentage of people in their 50s are living sexless lives — and the number is growing. In 2018, 20 percent of Americans ages 50 to 59 hadn’t had sex in the past year. By 2022, the number was 30 percent, according to data from the biannual General Social Survey (GSS), conducted by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center. How bad is that? The sexless rate was just under 10 percent for Americans ages 40 to 49 and around 12 percent for those 30 to 39.
Even sexually active 50-somethings aren’t necessarily satisfied, according to a new AARP study called “Ageless Desire: Sex and Relationships in Middle Age and Beyond.” Forty-three percent of people in their 50s are not having sex as often as they wish they were, the survey found.
Percentage of Americans 50–59 who aren’t having sex
25% in 2016
41% in 2022
15% in 2016
18% in 2022
Although the COVID pandemic didn’t ignite this trend, it did accelerate it, says Nicholas H. Wolfinger, who studies the GSS data as a professor of family and consumer studies and adjunct professor of sociology at the University of Utah. Why might this be? Gen Xers are facing multiple mojo-reducing challenges, including sandwich-generation stress and fatigue. Physical changes due to menopause or health issues such as high blood pressure and diabetes can wreak havoc on the libido. Renée Yvonne, a certified sex counselor in Washington, D.C., who specializes in Gen Xers, once dated a man with a low sex drive due to a drug he was taking. “I felt embarrassed because we’re taught that all men want sex,” she recalls. “I thought something was wrong with me.”
For singles, finding a partner in your 50s can feel like entering an alien universe. Just 23 percent of Americans in their 50s have ever used a dating website or app, and only 5 percent did so within the past year, according to a Pew Research Center study. “When we first started dating, there weren’t all of these apps,” Yvonne says. “Some people just say, ‘Why am I going through this?’ ”
But there is hope. To rev up your sex life, consider this advice from medical and psychological experts.
If your sex drive has diminished …
Call the doctor. Get a physical, and make sure any chronic ailments are under control. Don’t be shy about mentioning your libido. Women can talk to the gynecologist about treatments such as vaginal estrogen. “Dryness is an easily reversible condition,” says Jen Gunter, an ob-gyn in San Francisco and author of The Menopause Manifesto.
Lighten up. Being overweight can affect your sex drive physiologically and emotionally. Dissatisfaction with your looks “translates to low sexual self-esteem,” says Westchester County, New York, gynecologist Alyssa Dweck, chief medical officer with Bonafide Health and coauthor of The Complete A to Z for Your V.