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However, Swedish researcher Nils Beckman and colleagues from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden have conducted a study to learn about the attitudes to sex in later life. Participating in the project were four representative population samples of 70 year olds in Sweden interviewed in 1971-2, 1976-7, 1992-3, and 2000-1. Over these three decades, more than 1,500 septuagenarians offered to the researchers details of their sex lives regarding sexual dysfunctions, marital satisfaction and sexual activity.
Beckman and colleagues found that in thirty years, there was an across-the-board increase in the number of 70 year olds that reported engaging in sexual intercourse. From 1971-2 to 2001-2:
- Married men increased from 52% to 98%
- Married women increased from 38% to 56%
- Unmarried men increased from 30% to 54%
- Unmarried women increased from 0.8% to 12%
As an increasing number of these women reported having an orgasm during sex and a decreasing number reported not having an orgasm, there was a general increase in the number of women who reported high sexual satisfaction. Though fewer women reported low satisfaction with their sex lives, the situation was different for men – there was an increase the proportion of men who reported low satisfaction. This could be due to the modern phenomenon of male’s accepting responsibility for sexual failure, according to the authors.
For men, thirty years saw a decrease in the proportion of men reporting erectile dysfunction decreased, but an increase in the proportion reporting ejaculation dysfunction. The percentage reporting premature ejaculation remained about the same.
A particularly interesting finding is that when sexual intercourse stops between a male and a female, both sexes readily blame men – a similar finding to studies performed in the 1950s and 2005-06. The researchers conclude that, “Our study…shows that most elderly people consider sexual activity and associated feelings a natural part of later life.”
A comment accompanying the article is written by Professor Peggy Kleinplatz (University of Ottawa in Canada). She maintains that, “A major contribution of Beckman and colleagues’ study is that it focuses on sexual attitudes and behaviour in a sample of people – not patients – who are not seeking treatment for sexual dysfunction or attending a general medical clinic.”
Kleinplatz adds: “Doctors in general are known to be uncomfortable about asking patients questions about their sex lives. [Older people] may be even less likely than most to approach their doctors with sexual problems and concerns, although research shows that most people hope that their doctors will approach them…Given that sex plays an increasingly valuable role in the lives of older men and women, Beckman and colleagues’ study reinforces the dictum that doctors should ask – and be trained to ask – every patient, regardless of age, ‘Any sexual concerns?’ ”
Secular trends in self reported sexual activity and satisfaction in Swedish 70 year olds: cross sectional survey of four populations, 1971-2001
Nils Beckman, Margda Waern, Deborah Gustafson, Ingmar Skoog
BMJ (2008). 337:a279