Every year or so, it seems a new study “discovers” that the stereotype about women becoming less interested in sex as they grow older is, in fact, only a very persistent falsehood. Older women like sex! And, given a steady partner, they’re as satisfied with it as any 30- or 40-year-old. And nearly as active.
That’s the word from last year’s study, conducted by Dr. Holly Thomas, an assistant professor of medicine at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. In a national survey of almost 2100 women between 28 and 84, but mostly clustered in their 60s and 70s, two-thirds of the older women were sexually active and were as satisfied as ever with their sex lives.
Having a committed partner appeared to be the critical factor: Women were eight times more likely to be sexually active if they had a partner. In fact, sexual satisfaction was unrelated to age, but was more strongly linked to the degree of contentment within a relationship, ease of communication, and the importance the couple placed on sex.
“It's good to see that menopause is not nearly as important [to sexual satisfaction] as their relationship with the person they're having sex with,” said Lynnette Leidy Sievert, board member of the American Menopause Society, “because menopause is blamed for so many things.”
Yet, to disrupt the stereotype even further, thirteen percent of sexually active women in Thomas’s study didn’t have a steady partner, so “we shouldn't look at a woman who's not married and 60, and assume she's not sexually active,” says Thomas.
These high levels of sexual activity and satisfaction with sex have actually been fairly consistent over time, according to Thomas. A much larger study of 27,347 women between 60 and 79 that was conducted in 2011, also found that over 60 percent were happy with their sex lives, and of those who weren’t, almost 60 percent said they wished they had a more active sex life. The most common reasons for lack of sex were death of a partner, depression, and health problems.
Granted, our approach to sex and what gives us pleasure at 60 is different from sex at 30. For one thing, the physical element, such as attaining orgasm, is no longer as important as emotional aspects, such as intimacy and the feeling of connection with a partner. For another, the mechanics may—or may not—change with age, according to Thomas.
Some older women in Thomas’s study experienced the very predictable issues with libido and orgasm that we discuss all the time at MiddlesexMD. “Many women I talk to say, ‘What used to work for me doesn’t work for me anymore,’ ” noted Thomas.
But other women reported that sex was actually more satisfying than when they were younger, which they often attributed to greater self-confidence in knowing what they liked and in asking for it. Yet other women said that their sexual experience had remained fairly consistent throughout the years.
Apparently, in the absence of health issues or the death of a partner, satisfying sex can continue for a long time. A 2015 British study examined the sexual activity and satisfaction of men and women over 70—and into their 80s. While percentages of sexual activity had declined (to 54 percent for men and 31 percent for women), satisfaction levels for women continued to increase as they aged.
So, while sexual heat may gracefully fade from a red-hot boil to a comfortable simmer, satisfaction levels seem only to increase. Which is kind of sweet and hopeful, don’t you think?
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten.