Grandma Doesn’t Have Sex (I Doubt that Mom Does Either)

Grandma Doesn’t Have Sex ( I Doubt that Mom Does Either). There is no doubt that the idea of parents, much less grandparents, having sex has a certain “Ewwwh” factor for most of us — regardless of whether we are children or adults ourselves. Somehow, at least in Western culture, we prefer to think of our parents as asexual, or at least only interested in sex for reproduction.

The problem is that this discomfort in thinking of our parents as sexual extends to all older people and leads to a generalized assumption that sex is only for the young. This is simply ridiculous.

Grandma Doesn’t Have Sex (I Doubt that Mom Does Either)
Grandma Doesn’t Have Sex (I Doubt that Mom Does Either)

For one thing, sex is a life-long gift and it would be a shame if people started shutting their instincts and desires down just because they thought they had gotten too old to be sexually active. For another, this is at odds with reality.

Studies indicate that if people are in a relationship, they are likely to be having sex until health or loss of a partner intervenes. And satisfaction is high — 75% of women and 80% of men over age 75 that were having sex, said they got great pleasure from it (Waite et al., 2009).

Grandma Doesn’t Have Sex (I Doubt that Mom Does Either)

It looks like the view of sex among the aging has been changing in recent years; one study found that while in 2004, 60% of people over the age of 50 thought there was “too much attention to sex” in the world, only 20% agreed with that statement in 2009 (Fisher, 2009). Being older today is not the same as being older just a short time ago, and sex plays a big part in why.

The Good News
Recent attention to sex and aging means we have some good data on what lies in store for those of you who are a bit under 50, including information from a large national randomized study (Fisher, 2009) and a much larger cyber study (Northrup et al., 2013).

Affection
Two-thirds of men over 50 and about half of the women say they still hug and kiss their partner in public and 78% say they still hold hands at least some of the time (although this does get less common with age and duration of the relationship). But if we confine ourselves to the happiest couples, 73% still can’t keep their hands off of one another, 74% exchange passionate kisses at least once a week, and 85% say “I love you” to their partner at least once a week.

Not surprisingly, the numbers are not as good for couples who do not claim extreme happiness — 38% of couples over 50 who describe themselves as unhappy to moderately happy never kiss passionately (Northrup et al., 2009).

Grandma Doesn’t Have Sex (I Doubt that Mom Does Either)

Intercourse
Studies vary quite a bit on what the actual frequency of intercourse is for couples over 50 and it is important to divide their numbers by decade since there are changes over time. While sex is in most older people’s lives, there is no doubt that increasing age has an impact on desire and behavior.

Frequency starts to go down somewhat at age 50, decreases slightly in the sixties, and then takes a dive for both men and women in the seventies (Fisher, 2010). Still, a study of 80-to 102-year-olds who were in good health found that 62% of the men and 30% of the women still had sexual intercourse.

And even more reassuring, 8 out of 10 respondents said they usually or always were orgasmic during intercourse (Bretschneider and McCoy, 1988). Overall, sexual happiness was likely if an older person had a partner, had good health, and had a partner with good health(Fisher, 2009).

Playful Sex
Even more good news — old people are not unimaginative in bed. In one study, 60% of women over 50 and 40% of the men said they used sex toys. That makes sense both because sex toys have gone mainstream and are easy to buy these days on-and off-line, but also because as people age into their eighties and nineties, partners become less accessible and sexual aids are more and more useful.

Grandma Doesn’t Have Sex (I Doubt that Mom Does Either)

Body Parts
While women do have less lubrication as they age, the clitoris — the prime site for orgasm — stays intact and is not much bothered by aging. Men start to have more erectile issues as they age, but most do not have severe problems until into their seventies. Even better, most of those are correctable with drugs or other interventions. Men do take longer to have an orgasm later in life, but most women don’t complain about that (Hyde and DeLamater, 2011).

The Sobering News
The rates of intercourse after 70 really does go way down. There is also some indication that sex gets a little humdrum as relationships age. When people who were in a relationship of more than 2 l years were asked if they felt their partner often had sex with them out of a sense of obligation, almost 50% said yes (Northrup et al., 2013).

This may be because the spark has gone out of the relationship, but perhaps it is just a courtesy that long-time partners do for one another when one person is interested and the other is not. However, there are several things that interfere with some older women’s and men’s sexual desire and/or ability.

Menopause and Beyond
The climacteric is the general name for the period of time in the forties and fifties when there are significant hormonal changes in men and women. The female version is called peri-menopause (the beginning of the end of menstruation) and menopause (the stopping of menstruation). Hormones change gradually, over a period of years — not a sudden aha moment.

Menopause is stressful for some women, and a moderate event for others. The change in hormones gives some women night sweats, mood swings, sleeplessness, and even crankiness. This can be caused artificially in young women when endometriosis, cancer, or some other problem requires removal of the uterus and, more important, the ovaries.

These operations send a woman into menopause — but because it’s not gradual the effects can be temporarily dramatic. Unhappily, some women have a decade or more of symptoms.

Grandma Doesn’t Have Sex (I Doubt that Mom Does Either)

But menopause in women is not necessarily an opponent of sexual desire, and most women contend with the changes without losing sexual interest. Research indicates that while some of the hormones that have a direct impact on sexual arousal do decrease (though not necessarily disappear since the adrenal glands continue to secret androgens) other factors, like the desirability of the relationship, mental health, and general health play a much greater role in whether or not women are still very interested in sexual contact (Hayes et al., 2008).

An issue that many older women contend with is vaginal dryness. During and after menopause, the hormones that control the production of vaginal secretions during sexual arousal diminish. This can mean that sex is painful and intercourse feels abrasive. The good news is that two-thirds of women do not experience severe vaginal problems (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, 2005).

Some women use estrogen therapy to increase lubrication but they can also use any number of commercially available lubricants. One has to assume that these products wouldn’t be such big sellers if older women were uninterested in sex.

Grandma Doesn’t Have Sex (I Doubt that Mom Does Either)

Men Go Through a Change Too
Men also have hormonal changes for which they have to compensate. Testosterone levels decrease gradually over the years (Schiavi, 1990). Testosterone is known to account for at least some of our sexual appetite and a decrease in this male hormone can lead to a decrease in desire.

Both men and women are sometimes prescribed additional testosterone but there is debate as to whether this is overprescribed (Chu and Lobo, 2004; Warnock et al., 1997). Some significant research indicates that “low T” is really only present in 1 in 20 men in their seventies and extremely rare in younger men (Wu et al., 2010).

There is no doubt, however, that as men age, the blood flow to the penis decreases to some degree (which is different in different men) and erections are no longer as hard as they once were (Waite et al., 2009). By age 70, 56% of men have erectile problems (Fisher, 2009). Erectile dysfunction drugs have come to the rescue for most men — and for men who cannot take these drugs there are a variety of other ways to get hard, including implants and painless shots. (We know it’s hard to believe the shots are painless, but that is what the men who have had them assure us.)

While there clearly are some physical issues, research suggests that overall satisfaction has to do with a combination of physical and psychological issues. A 2007 study that used a randomized sample of people aged 45 and over found reasons for cessation of or limited sex included the impact of medications, arthritis, stroke, and heart problems but also depression, attitudes about sexuality in general, and lack of a partner (DeLamater and Moorman, 2007).

Grandma Doesn’t Have Sex (I Doubt that Mom Does Either)

A study by Schiavi et al. (1994) of men aged 45–74 found that those in good relationships were highly satisfied with their sexual life; however, there were moderating forces such as erectile dysfunction and lack of good information about sex. While some people have great sexual lives into very old age, there are physical problems that can really start compromising enjoyment or ability and, to add insult to injury, the medications for these problems may affect arousal. Only onequarter of men and women over 70 indicate extreme satisfaction with their sex lives (Fisher, 2009).

Grandma Doesn’t Have Sex (I Doubt that Mom Does Either)
Grandma Doesn’t Have Sex (I Doubt that Mom Does Either)
Grandma Doesn’t Have Sex (I Doubt that Mom Does Either)

Cultural Issues
Personal and cultural attitudes about sex also seem to affect older people more than younger ones. Take our obsession with young bodies as the standard for sexual attractiveness. This can affect both men and women’s feelings and enjoyment of their sexuality. A study found that middle-aged women’s desire for sex, frequency of orgasm, and frequency of sexual behavior was dependent on how attractive they felt rather than anything to do with menopause (Koch et al., 2005). Some social scientists believe older people are victims of a contrast effect — being bombarded with images of young, good-looking people all the time can make older individuals feel worse about themselves (Kenrick and Gutierres, 1980). Still, a study indicated that 53% of women over age 75 and 63% of men the same age said they were strongly attracted to their partner (AARP, 1999).

We think that as new images of sexiness for older men and women appear (think of the Viagra and Cialis ads), and as medical advances increase healthy lifespans, the frequency of and satisfaction with sex will continue to increase for older people.

A Better Longer Life
If you love your grandma, you want her to have sex. Research indicates that she will be happier, healthier, and live longer if she has orgasms (Persson, 1980, Davey Smith et al., 1997). This is true for grandpa too. In fact, one longitudinal study of men correlated having at least one orgasm a month with a significantly higher survival. And, men who had two orgasms a week were the big winners in the longevity sweepstakes (Davey Smith et al., 1997).

Further, a study of older men found that those who had sex at least twice a week were the least likely to have heart attacks (Hall et al., 2010). Sex brought both physical and psychological benefits — participants said that sex made them feel more wanted, needed and that, like the rest of us, they craved the exchange of affection that occurs during sexual moments. Of course, there is one caveat to all of this which is that age does not provide any
protection against STIs and older people need to practice safer sex as well.

Grandma Doesn’t Have Sex (I Doubt that Mom Does Either)

Older adults grew up before this phrase even existed and many who find themselves divorced or widowed at the end of a long relationship are unprepared for a world in which STIs are so common. So, before grandma or grandpa starts dating, someone ought to take her/him aside and discuss the importance of condoms. We believe that the numbers on older adults and sex will continue to go up both in terms of frequency and satisfaction.

Cultural and personal factors affect sexuality and aging enormously, and as we mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, our culture is not just becoming more sex positive but becoming more comfortable with the fact that we are all sexual well into our senior years.

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