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As You Age, Better Health Means Better Sex

Association held true for people well into their 80s, study found

TUESDAY, March 9 (HealthDay News) -- Better health translates into better sex lives, with healthy people more likely to engage in sex (and good sex at that) and to express an interest in sex, new research finds.

This association held firm into middle-age and later life as well, according to the study by University of Chicago researchers.

The authors of the study, published in the March 10 issue of BMJ, also created a novel measure called "sexually active life expectancy." According to this new measure, men aged 55 could expect another 15 years of sex while women of the same age could expect 10.6 more active years.

Overall, however, more men reported a satisfying sex life than women, a chasm that widened as people aged.

The findings shine light on a little discussed topic.

"The really important thing about this study is just that it was done," said Dr. Eva Ritvo, vice chair of psychiatry at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. "People don't look at sexual activity in a scientific way very often but it's so very fundamental to our existence. The focus has always been on illness, but health is about well-being, looking at sexual functioning as an important part of well-being."

Dr. Margaret E. Wierman, professor of medicine at the University of Colorado Denver, said the new study "points out that, over time, as a society women and men are becoming more comfortable talking about sex. Having a good sex life is critical to their overall quality of life."

But the fact that men are doing better than women is something that needs attention, Ritvo stated. "Why should men be having better sex than women? Viagra came out for men. Where's the female equivalent? For whatever reason women are not as satisfied as men and that needs to be addressed," she said.

The study authors looked at two different samples of people, one involving over 3,000 adults aged 25 to 74, and another with more than 3,000 adults aged 57 to 85. An equal number of men and women were in each group.

Men were more likely to report positive experiences with sex than women. This gender gap was most noticeable among 75-to-85-year olds, with 38.9 percent of men, compared to 16.8 percent of women, reporting being sexually active. Almost 71 percent of men in this age group reported a good sex life, versus only half of the women.

And more men today are reporting an interest in sex than in 2000.

"This probably is related to new medications in therapy, so now men who before never could even think about having sex can have sex," Weirman said.

Also, she added, "as people age, the unhealthy men die off so these are the healthiest men in that cohort."

Study lead author Dr. Stacy Tessler Lindau, director of the University of Chicago's Program in Integrative Sexual Medicine, said the "major reason why the picture looks better for men than women is that women tend to outlive their marriages and relationships, so there are more women in the adult population without partners. But if you look at women who have partners, the proportion who say they're sexually active is about the same as men who have a partner."

On the other hand, men's sex lives do seem to suffer more from poorer health.

"At age 55, men have, on average, 15 years of sexually active life expectancy and women about 11 years," Lindau explained. "Men who are in excellent or good health gain an additional five to seven years. What this says is that men benefit more from good health. Men in poor health lose more years of sexually active life expectancy than do women."

People with partners were more likely to be having sex and more men than women reported having partners, especially in later life, the study found.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more on sexuality during later life.

SOURCES: Stacy Tessler Lindau, M.D., director, Program in Integrative Sexual Medicine, University of Chicago; Eva Ritvo, M.D., vice chair of psychiatry, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, and co-author, The Beauty Prescription; Margaret E. Wierman, M.D., professor of medicine, University of Colorado Denver; March 10, 2010, BMJ

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