Psychologists may want to add one more thing to the list of discussion topics with their older clients--sex. Most Americans remain sexually active well beyond their late 50s, and they're anxious to talk about it, according to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine (Vol. 357, No. 8, pages 762-774).

The study provides key data on older Americans' sexuality--an unappreciated and understudied aspect of older people's lives--and sheds new light on the need for mental health practitioners to integrate sexuality into the other issues they explore with older adults, says geropsychologist Margaret Huyck, PhD, psychology professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

"We talk a lot about preserving quality of life...and for many older people, quality of life includes feeling like a sexual being," says Huyck.

Led by University of Chicago's Stacy Tessler Lindau, MD, researchers surveyed 3,005 men and women ages 57 to 85 years about their relationship status, physical heath, sexual activity level and sexual problems within the last 12 months, as well as how often they communicated with their physician about sex. They found that nearly three-quarters of respondents age 57 to 64, and more than a quarter between ages 75 to 85, had engaged in sexual behavior in the last year.

The study also showed that about half of sexually active older adults report at least one troublesome sexual problem--most commonly erectile difficulties in men and low desire in women--yet less than 40 percent discuss the topic with their physicians.

Huyck, who studies sexuality and its importance among older Americans, notes that sexual intimacy between older adults may not come with the lust and urgency of a newlywed couple, but that doesn't mean they don't still enjoy it.

"Our own level of comfort has to be increased when it comes to thinking about older folks as sexual and having similar conflicting urges and desires that they have in younger years," says Huyck.

Further Reading

For more information, go to the APA Office on Aging's "Aging and Human Sexuality Resource Guide".