Almost 60% of those aged over 50 are sexually active

Love is in the air and it’s not just the young ones who are at it, as a groundbreaking study has found most adults aged over 50 in Ireland are sexually active, writes Evelyn Ring, Irish Examiner.

Latest findings from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (Tilda) at Trinity College Dublin, released for St Valentine’s Day, reveals that almost 60% of adults aged over 50 are sexually active. One third (33%) of sexually-active adults have sex once or twice a week, and more than one third (36%) are sexually active once or twice a month.

The findings, based on responses from more than 8,000 adults over the age of 50, show that those who are sexually active tend to be more positive in their perceptions of ageing; they are less likely to consider themselves old and less likely to believe that ageing has negative consequences.

Tilda principal investigator Prof Rose Anne Kenny said the findings concurred with international data and emphasised the contribution of sexual activity to quality of life and good physical and mental health.

“Where difficulties with sexual activity are present, effective treatments are available, and we anticipate that the new data will reinvigorate GPs and healthcare professionals to inquire about patients’ sexual activity as part of routine clinical assessment and care,” said Prof Kenny.

The study shows that being sexually active is less likely in older age groups. Just under one quarter of those aged 75 are sexually active, compared to three quarters (75%) of those aged 50 to 64. Men are more sexually active than women at all ages. The decline in women’s sexual activity with age is more rapid.

However, women are more likely than men to be widowed at older ages, which may go some way to explaining this gender difference.

Three quarters (75%) of those who are married or cohabiting were sexually active in the past year, compared to 34% of those who are single, separated, or divorced, and 13% of those who are widowed.

Researchers did find that almost one in 10 (9%) of those who are unmarried or non-cohabiting do have a romantic or intimate partner and most (88%) are sexually active.

More men than women attribute importance to sex. Eight out of 10 (80%) of men agree sex is “somewhat important” in their lives, compared to just 56% of women. The study also shows that just over half of unmarried men aged 50 to 64 had engaged in sexual activity in the past 12 months.

Most of older couples describe the relationship with their spouse or partner as very close; 72% of men and 63% of women. A very close relationship was associated with a higher frequency of sexual activity.

Tilda researcher and report lead author Joanna Orr said the study emphasised the importance of relationships and dispelled the myth that sexual activity was incompatible with advancing age.

“It is important that health and social-care professionals working with older populations are capable of respecting this aspect of individuals’ lives, and take this into consideration when giving advice and making decisions regarding their wellbeing.”

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