About half of both men and women who were sexually active reported sexual problems. The most prevalent among women were low desire (experienced by 43 percent of respondents), vaginal dryness (39 percent) and inability to climax (34 percent). The most common problem reported by men was erectile dysfunction (37 percent).
Fourteen percent of all men reported using medication or supplements to help improve sexual function. "That was a high number," Lindau said.
Health more than age tended to affect people's sex lives; men and women who said their health was poor were less likely to be sexually active.
"The linkage with sexual health is closer to other health issues and is not so tied directly to aging per se," said Edward Laumann, co-author of the study and the George Herbert Mead Distinguished Service Professor in Sociology at the University of Chicago. "Sexual health, when it begins to deteriorate, may be an important warning sign, because it may be an early warning sign of more profound health problems." Lindau was co-director of the 1992 National Health and Social Life Survey which surveyed persons aged 18 to 59.
Despite difficulties, only 38 percent of men and 22 percent of women reported having discussed sexual health with a doctor since the age of 50.
Many people found ways to stay sexually active, even if their overall health was declining. This included oral sex (the prevalence being about 50 percent among those under 75) and masturbation (more than half of men and 25 percent of women said they masturbated, regardless of whether they had a partner).
That being said, vaginal intercourse was often predominant.
"The vast majority said that vaginal intercourse is always part of sexual behavior; that declines slightly as people age, with more cuddling and kissing and snuggling as the primary activity," Waite said.
The researchers also collected physiological specimens such
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