We have seen that our society tends to perceive the older years as a time when sexuality no longer has a place in people’s lives. What does research show about the reality of sexuality among older peo­ple in our own society? For many older adults sexuality is part of what makes their lives full and rich. In fact, research indicates that sexual interest and activity continue as a natural part of aging. For some, sexuality can actually improve in later life. Of a representative f sample of adults over age 60, 61% of those who were sexually active said that their sex life today was either the same as or more physi – I cally satisfying than in their 40s (Dunn & Cutler, 2000).

® A research study that asked older adults the questions, "Has sex gotten better or worse over your life course?" and "When did improvements occur and why?" found it was common for women to say that their later-life sexuality was more fulfilling than their early – in-life experiences. As young women, ignorance of their own bodies and a gender-role sexual passivity led them to defer sexual interaction to often ill-informed male partners. Many reached middle age before they had enough experience to discover their own sexual desires and be confident enough to initiate them, which enhanced their sexual lives considerably (Gullette, 2011).

How sexually active are older adults? A nationally representative survey of men and women age 60 and older found that about half are sexually active. "Sexually active" was defined as engaging in vaginal intercourse, oral sex, anal intercourse, or masturbation at least once a month (Dunn & Cutler, 2000). Frequency of sexual activity for people who continue to be sexually active does not decrease significantly until after age 74 (Lindau et al., 2007). New sexual relationships may also develop in later adulthood (Cheever, 2011; Vasconcellos et al., 2006). A 67-year-old woman explained:

Eight years after my husband died, I met a widower on a tour of New Orleans. The physical attraction was intense for both of us. Neither of us had had sex for many years, but two days after discovering each other we were in bed with clothes strewn all over the floor. the sex (which neither of us was sure we’d be able to achieve) was sensational. We’re very much in love but have decided not to marry because we both love our homes, need "space," and are finan­cially independent. Our children accept our lifestyle and are very happy with our respective "significant other" (Authors’ files)

Many older adults are dating and many use dating websites, and it is not unusual for individuals to have a new sexual partner later in life. Several studies have reported that

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women were most likely to experience orgasm with someone they were sexual with who was not a relationship partner. Eighty-one percent of women reported having an orgasm in their last sexual encounter if their partner was a non-relationship partner, compared to 58% who experienced orgasm with a relationship partner. Perhaps women find a new partner more arousing, or women who seek out new partners are inherently more sexually motivated. In contrast, men were more likely to experience orgasm with a relationship partner (Schick et al., 2010).

Sexual activity of older adults is, unfortunately, evidenced by the rising incidence of HIV/AIDS in this group (Harvard Women’s Health Watch, 2012). Only about 20% of sexually active older men and 24% of women who are not in an ongoing exclusive relationship say they used a condom during their last sexual experience (Schick et al., 2010). Many health-care professionals do not routinely screen for sexually transmitted infections in seniors, but some public health agencies offer safe-sex seminars to seniors (Levy, 2001; McGinn & Skipp, 2002).