A healthy life leads to a healthy sex life

Being in good or excellent health increases the quality and quantity of sex for middle aged and older people, according to a big study that delved into the sex lives of 6,000 American adults aged 25-85.  Plus being fit can keep you sexually active into a ripe old age, unlike your unhealthy peers.

The study also had a whole raft of other expected findings, some rather expected (e.g. men are more interested in sex) and others maybe less so (such as more than a third of men aged 75-85 are sexually active, as are 17% of women the same age).

The cross sectional study, published in the BMJ, looked at two large American health surveys: the national survey of midlife development in the United States (MIDUS), which assessed in 1995-6 adults aged 25-74, and the national social life, health and aging project (NSHAP), which in 2005-06 looked at people aged 57-85.

Overall, men were more likely than women to be sexually active and be interested in sex. Between 69% and 87% of men of all ages reported being sexually active in the past six months, compared with 43% to 76% of women, and men were significantly more likely to report being interested in sex than were women (66% versus 53% among those aged aged 25-74 and 62% versus 21% in those aged 57-85). These gender differences increased with age and were greatest in people aged 75-85 years: 38.9% of men compared with 16.8% of women were sexually active.

On the other hand, overall, sexual satisfaction was similar in the two genders: among sexually active respondents, about two thirds of men and women reported a good quality sex life. These proportions also changed as women aged though, so that only half women aged 57-85 who were sexually active reported a good quality sex life compared with nearly three quarters of men.

A novel aspect of this study was the use of a new measure devised by the authors called “sexually active life expectancy” – that is, the average number of remaining years a person could expect to remain sexually active.

At the age of 30, men had a sexually active life expectancy of 34.7 years (i.e., to within 10 years of the average life expectancy of 74.8 years) and women had 30.7 years (to 20 years less than their life expectancy of 80.6 years). This means that men spend 78% of their lives sexually active, compared with 61% for women. At 55, these figures changed to 14.9 remaining years for men and 10.6 years for women.

For me the most interesting finding was the link between good health and good sex. Men aged 25-74 who were in very good or excellent health were more than twice as likely to be sexually active than their less healthy counterparts, whereas women of the same age were 60% more likely to be sexually active.

Of those people who were sexually active, men and women who were in very good or excellent health were 70% more likely to report having a good quality sex life than those who were in less good shape, and were 40-80% more likely to be interested in sex.

Good health also increased how long people would remain sexually active compared with people reporting fair or poor health: men in very good health at age 55 were projected to gain on average 5-7 years of life as sexually active, whereas women were projected to gain 3-6 years.

It seems like good health keeps people keeping on in more way than one…
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Lindau S & Gavrilova N (2010) Sex, health, and years of sexually active life gained due to good health: evidence from two US population based cross sectional surveys of ageing. BMJ 340 (mar09 2). DOI: 10.1136/bmj.c810

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