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Medical News Today: Sexual frequency picks up after 50 years of marriage

Marriage is depicted by some as the beginning of the end for a couple’s sex life. While sexual activity has been found to become less frequent for married couples over time, a new study suggests that after 50 years of marriage, couples experience a slight increase in sex.
Two seniors enjoying a bike ride.
“As people age, they tend to be more even-keeled, which may help cut down on marital conflict and facilitate regular sexual activity into advanced age,” says study author Samuel Stroope.

The study, published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, also reports that people who remarry have sex less frequently than couples that maintain their first marriage – although sex still offered the same levels of physical pleasure and emotional satisfaction.

“This study adds to a small but growing body of research on the sexual behavior of older adults,” states co-author Jeremy Uecker, an assistant professor of sociology at Baylor University in Waco, TX.

While the findings may be surprising to some, the new study is just one part of a growing body of research investigating sexual activity in the lives of older adults. Recently, another study reported that 54% of men and 31% of women aged over 70 were still sexually active.

Researchers from Baylor University, Louisiana State University and Florida State University investigated the relationship between sexual outcomes and marital characteristics for 1,656 married adults, aged 57-85. Data were taken from the 2005-06 National Social Life, Health and Aging Project.

Overall, the researchers found that marital duration had a curvilinear (U-shaped) relationship with the frequency of sex. However, the researchers note that only a relatively small number of couples survive until their 50th year of marriage to experience the rebound, representing a limitation with the study.

“Additionally, the study used a snapshot in time – and therefore cannot prove that length and order of marriage caused sexual frequency,” says co-author Samuel Stroope, an associate professor of sociology at Louisiana State University.

‘Sense of permanency and lasting investment’ could explain findings

Stroope describes the team’s findings as “intriguing results” for a growing demographic group whose sexual behavior has rarely been studied. Future research will concentrate on the causation of these findings.

Stroope suggests it could be the permanency of the relationship that contributes to sexual relations picking up after such a long period of time. “Growing old as a couple, with the experience and knowledge that come with that, may play a part,” he says. He continues:

“You are able to learn about your partner and build on that over time. You may have a higher level of trust when you feel that your spouse isn’t going to go anywhere. The expectation that the relationship will continue may give you more reason to invest in the relationship – including in sexual aspects of the relationship.”

A lack of a sense of permanence may also be why individuals who remarry have less frequent sex than those in their first marriages. Stroope hypothesizes that people who have been married in the past may not have as strong a sense of lasting investment.

There are many normal changes to the body that occur with aging that can impair a couple’s sexual drive. Erectile dysfunction, arthritis, incontinence and medication are just a few of the factors that can impact on the sexual activity of older adults.

“Physical problems can change your sex lives as you grow older,” state the National Institute on Aging. “But, you and your partner may discover you have a new closeness. Talk to your partner about your needs.”

Previously, Medical News Today reported on a study finding that people who feel younger than their actual age live longer than people who feel their age or older.

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