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MILWAUKEE — An unprecedented study of sex and seniors in the United States finds that many older people are surprisingly frisky - willing to do, and talk about, intimate acts that would make their grandchildren blush. But it comes from the most comprehensive sex survey ever done among to year-olds in the United States. Sex and interest in it do fall off when people are in their 70s, but more than a quarter of those up to age 85 reported having sex in the year. And the drop-off has a lot to do with health or lack of a partner, especially for women, the survey found.
The federally funded study, done by respected scientists and published in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine, overturns some stereotypical notions that physical pleasure is just a young person's game. However, more than half of those aged 57 to 75 said they gave or received oral sex, as did about a third of to year-olds. It's about time," said Ruth Westheimer, better known as sex expert Dr.
Ruth, who has long counseled seniors on sex. The survey involved two-hour face-to-face interviews with 3, men and women around the country. Researchers also took blood, saliva and other samples that will tell about hormone levels, sex-related infections and other health issues in future reports.
They even tested how well seniors could see, taste, hear and smell - things that affect being able to have and enjoy sex. Of those who were active, most said they did it two to three times a month or more. But they also lacked partners; far more were widowed. Most common in men was erection trouble 37 percent ; in women, low desire 43 percentvaginal dryness 39 percent and inability to have an orgasm 34 percent.
The survey had a remarkable 75 percent response rate. Only 2 percent to 7 percent did not answer questions about sexual activities or problems, although a higher percentage declined to reveal how often they masturbate. Why do this research? Sex is an important indicator of health, said Georgeanne Patmios of the National Institute on Aging, the study's main funder. Sexual problems can be a warning of diabetes, infections, cancer or other health woes. Untreated sex issues can lead to depression and social withdrawal, and people may even stop taking needed medications because of sexual side effects, the researchers wrote.
Some of them did a landmark study of sexual habits in younger people a decade ago, but little is known about X-rated behaviors beyond Generation X. Stacy Tesser Lindau, a University of Chicago gynecologist.
Many doctors are embarrassed to bring it up, and some may not know how to treat sexual dysfunction, said Dr. Alison Moore, a geriatrics specialist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who had no role in the study. The National Opinion Research Center, a university-affiliated private research firm, did the surveys in people's homes. Laumann, its chairman, has received research support from Pfizer, the maker of Viagra. Hundreds of questions were asked face to face; others, like the of lifetime sex partners and frequency of masturbation, were asked in a questionnaire, and 84 percent of those were completed.
Most participants were married. But by the time they were 75 to 85, only 37 percent of women had spouses compared to 71 percent of men.
Roughly 10 percent of those in the survey were black and more than 6 percent were Hispanic. The proportion of each gender reporting giving and receiving oral sex "matched up perfectly," Lindau said. Older people were generally sexually conservative. A small minority had more than one partner, and very few said they paid for sex. Researchers also used state-of-the-art technology and products donated by several companies to test people's senses.
Taste strips were used to see if people could distinguish between various tastes sour, salty. Special devices were used to test the ability to smell certain scents, including a suspected pheromone - a smell thought to evoke sexual responses.
Scents and tastes "get under the skin to influence biology," and scientists wanted to know whether these senses diminish as people age, Lindau explained. Niels Teunis, an anthropologist and researcher at the Institute of Sexuality, Social Inequality, and Health at San Francisco State University, said the survey bolsters the "use it or lose it" factor seen in studies.
If you slack off in marriage like when you're in your 40s, it's hard to pick it up when you are older," he said. Jack Menager, 83, and his wife, Elizabeth, 84, agree. The suburban Los Angeles couple say they have had a good sex life for nearly 60 years.
It makes us forget everything - escape," he said, admitting that as physical endurance wanes "you have to work at it harder. The couple takes twice daily walks, drinks wine in moderation and talks a lot, said his wife. More men than women felt that way. Only 13 percent of men but 35 percent of women said sex was "not at all important. Menopause has a big effect on women, and the drop-off of estrogen makes many of them less interested in sex, Dr.
But menopause also means women no longer have to worry about getting pregnant, and many have more time and feel freer after children are gone, notes Westheimer, the sex adviser. At age 79, she said, "I don't ever answer personal questions" about sex. But she added, "I certainly have a zest for life. Health Sex and the seniors: Survey shows many elderly people remain frisky. That may be too much information for some folks. Some : -Sex with a partner in the year was reported by 73 percent of people ages 57 to 64; 53 percent of those ages 64 to 75, and 26 percent of people 75 toHey any adult grannies guys still around
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Why are older men looking at women half their age?