Research in Sweden Explores Sexual Activity for Older Adults

A Healthy Sex Life Is Part of Healthy Aging

A senior couple in bed.
A senior couple in bed. Mark Bowden/Vetta/Getty Images

It's becoming common knowledge that sex for older adults is just as common, and just as satisfying, as it is for younger adults. In the past, not much research in this area existed. People assumed that, as people got older, sex became a thing of the past. Now, we know that people aged 70 and beyond are reporting having active, fulfilling sex lives. Which is fantastic because sex is an essential part of our overall health and well being.

Since 1970, researchers in Sweden have been surveying people over the age of 70 about their sex lives. One very interesting thing about the Swedish data is that we can compare this data from the '70s to data we have today. For example, in 1971, only 52 percent of married men aged 70 and up reported that they were still sexually active, compared to the 68 percent we see in more recent research. Similarly, just 38 percent of married women over the age of 70 reported being sexually active in 1971, compared to 56 percent quoted in more recent research.

For unmarried older adults, there has been a similar increase in reported instances of sexual activity. 30 percent of single men and less than 1 percent of single women reported being sexually active in the context of that 1971 study. Now, 30 percent of single men and 12 percent of single women report that they are still having sex.

Okay, But How Much Sex Are They Really Having?

Older adults are having more sex than you might think.

Of all the sexually active older adults, 25 percent report having sex at least once a week (compared with 10 percent in the 1970s). Not only that, but at least half of the men and women said their relationships were “very happy.”

Why Might Older Adults Be Having More Sex?

  • People are living longer and are healthier. The average 70-year-old today is healthier than the average 70-year-old in 1970, and has a longer life expectancy.
  • Sexual dysfunctions are readily treated. Men have access to a number of medications (like Viagra) to treat erectile dysfunction.
  • The culture has changed. Older adults' expectations are different than they were in the 1970s.

More About Sex, Aging and Older Adults


Nils Beckman, Margda Waern, Deborah Gustafson, and Ingmar Skoog. Secular trends in self reported sexual activity and satisfaction in Swedish 70 year olds: cross sectional survey of four populations, 1971-2001. BMJ 2008; 337: a279

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