Survey: Aging boomers pushing sexual revolution into older age
August 3, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Aging baby boomers are much more tolerant of sex without marriage and more willing to experiment than older folks from previous generations, according to a new survey about sex among Americans over age 45.
"Those of us who are now in our 40s and 50s, most of us had a sex life before marriage, and/or between marriages" said Susan Jacoby, author of an article on the study published in the AARP magazine Modern Maturity.
"This history suggests that we are unlikely to accept celibacy as the inevitable outcome of widowhood," she said, as was more typically the case among older generations.
According to the report, 36 percent of women aged 45-59 said people should not have a sexual relationship outside marriage, compared with 66 percent opposed among women 75 and older.
Oral sex and masturbation are likely more frequent among boomer women than among their mothers' generations, said Constance Swank, a researcher for AARP.
Among boomers with sexual partners, more than six in 10 respondents said they had intercourse once a week or more, as do more than one-quarter of those 75 and older. Overall, seven in 10 of those with partners said they had sex at least once a month.
But that leaves out the problem of finding a partner, which is harder for women, who tend to live longer than men, said Swank.
"There is certainly a gender gap, and the demographics are not going to change," Swank said. "We can't grow 75-year-old men overnight."
About eight of every 10 Americans aged 45 to 59 have sexual partners, but that changes with age. Only 21 percent of women 75 and older have partners, while 58 percent of men in that age group have partners, the survey found.
And having a man in their lives is no guarantee that older women are having sex.
One in every four men reported being either completely or moderately impotent, only 15 percent of those said they had tried Viagra to improve sexual performance.
A substantial number of people surveyed said their sex lives were affected by health conditions ranging from arthritis to impotence -- but less than half of them are seeking treatment.
"People are missing opportunities to avail themselves of treatments that could increase their sexual functioning and thereby add to their quality of life," said Swank.
But sex is not the top priority in their lives.
While 67 percent of men and 57 percent of women placed a great deal of importance on a satisfying sexual relationship as part of their quality of life, those surveyed placed sex below lasting relationships, financial security and good health.
The survey of nearly 1,400 people aged 45 and older was designed to measure attitudes both by gender and by age group.
"The biggest myth out there of all is the myth that old people don't have sex or aren't interested in sex, meaning basically that after a certain age you're supposed to go to Florida, play golf, and wait for Ed McMahon to knock on the door and not think or even do sex," said Hugh Delehanty, editor-in-chief of Modern Maturity. "And basically we all know that this is patently absurd."
Another finding suggests men at mid-life who view their partners as romantic and/or physically attractive will continue to do so as they get older.
Fifty-nine percent of the men aged 45-74 listed their partners as strongly "physically attractive," a figure that rose to 62 percent among men 75 or older.
The same issue of Modern Maturity includes a popularity poll among prominent, over-50 Americans in an article entitled "Who's sexy now."
Among Washington figures, Sen. John Warner (R-Virginia), and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-California) were ranked "vote getting sexy."
Swank said the poll deliberately excluded President Clinton from any assessment of his "sexy" factor.
Producer Paul Courson, Reporter Jonathan Aiken and Reuters contributed to this report.
Sex after 60: You betcha, survey says
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