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Americans continue to value intimacy with a partner later in life, but what that looks like varies by age and gender.

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A new AARP national survey of adults ages 40-plus reveals 61% believe sexual activity is a critical part of a good relationship. It’s more important (72%) to those ages 40–49, than those ages 50-plus (58%), and men feel it to be more essential than women (67% vs. 57%).

Over time, older Americans are developing a more positive attitude toward sex.

While in 2009, 65% felt there was too much emphasis on sex in the culture, just 56% said the same in the most recent survey, conducted in late 2022. Slightly more now agree that sexual activity is important to their overall quality of life — up from 42% to 44% in the same period.

Nearly half of older Americans (46%) are satisfied with their current sex life and most respondents say their sex lives are as satisfying (37%) or even better (17%) than a decade ago.

Older adults are still very active.

Two-thirds of respondents (67%) have a regular sexual partner — although the numbers decline with age (79% of those 40–49 compared to 53% of respondents 70-plus). About 65% of respondents are married or in a long-term partnership.

Most older adults are still having regular sexual intercourse, including one in six adults (17%) ages 70-plus who have sex weekly, compared to one in four adults (25%) ages 50-plus. Meanwhile, 27% say they have sex monthly or less, and 40% say not at all. Other kinds of affection, such as kissing, hugging, and caressing, have increased. Responding to the question whether they’d had sex in the past week, 55% of those 40-plus said yes, while 52% of those 50-plus report having sex recently.

Feelings about the frequency of sex are mixed as 46% feel they have the right amount of sex, while 45% say they are not having it often enough, with men expressing a shortfall more than women (55% vs. 36%). Men (22%) are more likely than women (9%) to rate their sex drive as higher than average.

Older adults acknowledge other contributors to their well-being.

When asked to rank areas that impact quality of life, financial security tops the list at 97%, followed by health (96%) and independence (96%). Respondents also value close ties to friends and family, a good relationship with their partner, being productive, and spiritual well-being. Having a satisfying sexual relationship came in eighth (71%).

Those who consider themselves in excellent or good health are more likely to find sex important (73%), compared to those in fair or poor health (64%). Indeed, the survey showed respondents overall would be happier with their sex life if they were in better health themselves (37%), their partners had better health (26%), or they were less stressed (26%).

Adults are more open-minded, but some things stay private.

Over time, Americans are developing an increasingly relaxed attitude about sex. AARP finds more recognize the value of sexual activity as people age and they are more accepting of sex outside of marriage.

Although most keep it private, 83% of Americans ages 40-plus acknowledge having sexual thoughts or erotic dreams or fantasies, such as having sex with a stranger. Those identifying as heterosexual are more likely than those identifying as nonheterosexual to say they’ve never discussed their fantasies (66% vs. 42%). Respondents 70 and over have the highest likelihood of never discussing their fantasies (77%).

Infidelity is a reality that many overcome.

The top reason Americans say they have an affair is the novelty of having sex with someone other than their partner (32%), followed by having a higher sexual drive than their partner, the AARP survey finds.

As it turns out, having an affair often may not be much of a secret between partners. Notably, the poll finds, the percentage of people who have been unfaithful (14%) roughly matches the percentage of people who believe their partner has been unfaithful (13%).

Many have forgiving attitudes about infidelity. Just 4% said it ended their relationship. About one-third said it resulted in tension and lack of trust; another third said there was tension, but the relationship survived; and 8% said it made the partnership stronger.

Easier access to information on sexual health could help older Americans.

As men and women get older one thing doesn’t change: their ability to enjoy erotic pleasure. Yet, health issues and psychological changes can take a toll on sexual functioning.

Many older adults don’t know where to turn for information. About two-thirds (59%) have not sought information about relationships or sex (66%). Those who have done so most often go to the internet, friends/family, and social media.

Men are more likely than women to seek out information about sex across a variety of sources (40% men vs. 25% women). And among those who have a problem with sexual functioning, men are more likely to seek some type of treatment (62%) than women (42%).

Sex lives can be cultivated.

Four out of five older adults describe their relationship with their partner as physically pleasurable and emotionally satisfying. For those seeking a better connection, the prospects are promising: A happy sex life can be cultivated. Those who are most content tend to have a sexual partner, frequent sexual intercourse, good health, low levels of stress, and no financial worries.

Intimacy is vital to adults — and the yearning for closeness of all kinds has become even more pronounced since the COVID-19 pandemic. Compared to two years ago, older Americans are looking for ways to connect more with their spouse, partner, friends, and family, AARP finds.

Overall, Americans 40-plus are optimistic about the present and future. While 50% say they are living their best life now, 62% say they’ll be living their best life possible five years from now. Given that most adults ages 40-plus view sexual activity as a critical part of a good relationship, many likely see intimacy as a central part of their lives, now and going forward.

Methodology
Information for this report came from a poll of 2,506 adults ages 40 and older in the United States conducted between November and December, 2022. The sample was weighted for age, gender, race/ethnicity, and other demographic factors. Respondents answered the 20-minute survey online and by phone (with the option of English or Spanish).

For more information, please contact Brittne Kakulla at bkakulla@aarp.org. For media inquiries, please contact External Relations at media@aarp.org.