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Sex in later life

Despite what many young adults might think, your love life doesn’t end when you hit a certain age. In fact, it can be quite the reverse, says Lee Rodwell 

Does your love life improve with age? Is sex like a bottle of good wine – even better when mature? It would seem so. A recent UK study has shown that people are continuing to enjoy sex well into mid-life and beyond. 

The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) looked at sexual activity and sexual health among more than 6,000 men and women aged 50 to 90. It found more than half (54%) of men and almost a third (31%) of women over the age of 70 reported they were still sexually active, with a third of these men and women having sex at least twice a month. 

Meanwhile, a smaller survey for sex toy brand Hot Octopuss found that more than eight out of ten men and women aged 55+ were either ‘satisfied’ or ‘extremely satisfied’ with their current sex lives – significantly higher than any other age group. 

The survey also found that people in the 55+ age bracket were more confident talking to their partners about what they wanted in the bedroom than 18 to 35-year-olds. 

Have fun, whatever your age 

There’s no doubt that sex is good for you. A recent Dutch study has found that the more sexually active older people were, the more efficiently their brains worked

But not everyone over the age of 50 is at it like rabbits. Denise Knowles is a family counsellor with Relate, the UK’s largest provider of relationship support. She says: “Age should not be a barrier to enjoying a relationship both physical and emotional. But sex does change as you get older – for some it gets better, for others it’s not quite so good.

“There may be life stage issues – children leaving home, being made redundant, retirement – all of which can have an impact on your sex life. Some people may find it hard to adjust to the natural ageing process, or are simply less flexible than they used to be.”

In addition, she says, older men may find their erections are less reliable, while women may find the menopause dampens desire or causes physical problems.

She adds: “In older couples, the sexual act might not be so crucial to the relationship as being tactile and sensual with each other. 

“If a couple can feel close, can kiss and caress without feeling the need to perform or achieve orgasm through penetration – that can be very enhancing for their sex lives and their day to day relationships.”

Stay safe and use protection 

But what if you are not part of a couple? Sheelagh Donovan from Age UK says: “It can be especially daunting to consider starting a new sexual relationship. Make sure you discuss each other’s expectations. If you are feeling nervous about having sex with someone new, then let them know that. You may find that they feel as nervous as you do.”

You also need to think about safe sex – particularly since the latest figures show that rates for diagnoses of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the 45-64-year-old age group have risen.

Paul Casey is head of programmes at the sexual health charity FPA. He says: “For many people over 50, safer sex for a long time would have been about avoiding pregnancy, and now they might not have that to worry about, they might not think about the other side of staying safe, which is preventing STIs being passed on.”

Indeed, a recent study by the Co-operative Pharmacy found that across all age groups, the over 50s were the most likely to never use protection when having sex with a new partner. 

Yet as Paul Casey stresses: “It is a myth that you have to have lots of sexual partners to get an infection, and sexually transmitted infections certainly do not discriminate by age. 

“Anyone who is sexually active can be at risk of getting and passing on an STI. For people embarking on new relationships after divorce or bereavement, who may be new to dating apps, websites, singles’ nights and singles’ holidays, using condoms could be a complete unknown. 

“But it’s really important you don’t let fear or embarrassment stop you from getting help when you need it.” 

Real life: “There’s no age limit to desire”

Liz Hodgkinson says feeling confident is key Liz Hodgkinson has had “quite a few” sexual encounters since her partner died ten years ago.

She says: “It’s a bit like being young again – I’m not looking for Mr Right, I’m just having fun. And I feel even sexier than I used to because I’m confident about my body. I go to the gym every day and I’m very fit. 

“I don’t look like a 25-year-old but for someone over 70, I think I look pretty good – and I’ve certainly had no shortage of offers. Most have been from men around my own age so it’s clear there’s no age limit to desire.”

Liz, who lives in Oxford, says she sees dozens of women in their 60s and 70s who still think, look and act sexy. 

“I think my generation rejects the notion that you’re past your prime the moment you pick up your pension. It’s partly a question of attitude. If you are lively and animated and look like you are fun to be with, men will find that attractive. 

“Sex is totally different now to when I was younger. I feel more in control because I’m not looking for a long-term relationship and I have no ulterior motives. I’m not interested in someone for their money, or because I want children. There are no strings attached. And if it’s not fun – or it stops being fun – I can just end it.” 

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This article has been commissioned by retiresavvy and any opinions voiced are the author's own.

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