Education, Health, and Safety

A third of people aged over 70 are sexually active, survey reveals

Researchers asked 511 people aged 70 or over who lived in Belgium how sexually active they had been in the past year


25 April 2022

An older couple kissing

Claudia Burlotti/Getty Images

Just under a third of people aged over 70 are sexually active, a survey has revealed.

Adina Cismaru-Inescu at the University of Liège in Belgium and her colleagues are interested in the sexual activity of older people and how this relates to their well-being.

To better understand the prevalence of sexual activity among this age group, the researchers led a survey of 511 people who lived in Belgium and were aged 70 or over. Of the participants, 200 were in their eighties and 29 in their nineties.

Thirty-one per cent of the participants reported being sexually active in the past year. This was defined as engaging in any kind of sexual practice, including vaginal intercourse, masturbation, oral sex and anal sex.

Of the remaining participants, 47 per cent said they had been involved in acts of “physical tenderness” with a partner, mainly kissing and cuddling, in the past 12 months.

Sexual activity was more common among people who had a partner and a “permissive attitude” to intimacy, according to common criteria. Those who were relatively younger than the other participants and didn’t have a disability were also more likely to be sexually active.

Overall, 74 per cent of the sexually active participants said they were satisfied with their sex life, according to Cismaru-Inescu. Of those who weren’t sexually active, nearly 60 per cent said they, too, were content with this level of intimacy.

“When we talk about older adults, we just have this idea that, ‘oh, these are just grannies and grandpas who like cooking and going for a walk’,” says Cismaru-Inescu. “We don’t even think that they could have a sexuality.”

The World Health Organization has called for sexuality to be recognised as an aspect of well-being across all age groups. But in a study published last year, Cismaru-Inescu and her colleagues reported how healthcare professionals lack knowledge and communication skills when it comes to sexuality among older people.

“Sexuality in later life exists,” says Cismaru-Inescu. “This is pure evidence and it can’t be denied.”

“So, at different levels, we have to do something, because healthcare professionals don’t know much about it, and nursing home staff need to recognise that people want some time alone, meaning not just walking into their rooms but letting them have some privacy,” she says.

Journal reference: The Journal of Sexual Medicine, DOI: 10.1016/j.jsxm.2022.01.516. Epub 2022 Feb 27. PMID: 35236640

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