Is lots of sex the secret to a happy retirement? Well, it’s certainly true that sexually active retirees tend to be happier, says Bettina Arndt.
It makes sense, of course. There’s nothing like physical intimacy to create a rosy glow and that vital sense of connection. And it can even beat a round of golf for hearty exercise, depending upon your level of enthusiasm.
According to a Florida University survey of 239 married people, 60 per cent of married folk who had sex more than once a month were “very happy” with their life in general, compared with just 40 per cent of those who had not had sex for more than a year. That doesn’t mean couples who prefer to read a book or have a good night’s sleep were miserable with each other – 59 per cent who reported no sexual activity in the last 12 months still said they were happily married. But it stands to reason that couples still keen on the dancing doona will have an extra level of intimacy.
Unfortunately, the togetherness that retirement brings sometimes highlights the flaws in a marriage. Divorce is a growing hazard facing older married men. The percentage of divorces involving men over 50 more than doubled between 1985 and 2010 – leaping from 11 to 22 per cent for men in their 50s and four to 10 per cent for men aged 60 plus. And it’s mainly wives who choose to opt out – a Family Court study by Pauline Presland and Helen Gluckstern showed that women made the decision to leave in two-thirds of mature aged marital separations; a finding supported by a recent study from Bowling Green State University in the US.
The Australian researchers found that it was the prospect of spending the rest of their lives in unhappy, unfulfilling relationships that inspired these older women to end their marriages. As one woman put it: “At this time of my life, my children have all left home. I felt I was just part of the furniture and needed someone to notice me. I decided if I stayed any longer I’d be stuck forever.”
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With most women now feeling entitled to refuse sex when they aren’t interested, there’s little likelihood of much activity if women are unhappily married. But luckily there are many couples who acquire greater intimacy when they have more time to enjoy together. A large US survey of more than 1000 more than 1000 55–75 year olds conducted by AARP The Magazine, found that retirement leaves most couples happier, less stressed and closer to their spouses than ever before. “People are returning to a time in their relationships when they’re getting to know each other all over again – enjoying each other’s company, doing things that they mutually like to do; like travelling, eating out,” explained Nancy Perry Graham, the editor.
It was interesting to note that 22 per cent still reported that they were having less sex than before – probably due to the high incidence of low desire in older women. The sad truth is that most women go off sex in long-term relationships – as I explain in my book, The Sex Diaries. The problem seems to be hard-wired – most women have a fragile, distractible libido which means they need perfect conditions to get fired up. It’s common for married women to go for years with no interest in sex, and loss of oestrogen after menopause often leads to a further drop in desire.
Yet there are still older women who are keen for their sex lives to flourish and it’s a great shame that many find themselves experiencing painful intercourse, due to the dryness and thinning of the vaginal walls which can result from oestrogen deprivation. Despite all the media stories which have scared women off hormone replacement therapy, most women can use oestrogen therapy safely – if necessary using local applications of oestrogen creams or pessaries which rarely pose any real risk. Do talk to your doctor if you are concerned about this issue.
There are many other health issues (such as depression, the use of anti-depressives and diabetes) which can derail your sex life in this older age group – but also loss of erections. Erectile dysfunction (ED) affects one in two men over fifty, 60 per cent of 60 year olds, and 70 per cent of men in their 70s. Large numbers of men diagnosed each year with prostate cancer (nearly 20,000 in Australia annually) are part of the story, with prostate cancer treatments often leading to ED. There’s still much work needed to make sure all men in this situation have access to proper “penile rehabilitation.”
The good news is that we now live in the age of Viagra, with a large range of possible treatments to help older men achieve erections. The challenge is getting men to seek proper help, with many preferring to pay out thousands of dollars to clinics which offer useless treatments because they are too embarrassed to see their local doctor. I regularly receive letters from older women who are tearing their hair out because their men won’t even hug them anymore – they are so afraid of failing to perform during sex, that they avoid all intimacy.
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Yes, there are many obstacles preventing couples from enjoying lovemaking in these older age groups. But at least we now acknowledge that lust and sexual pleasure can continue through to old age – and where there’s a will, there’s a way.
That applies also to our single retirees. Growing numbers of men and women now find themselves on their own at this stage in life. But for those still keen to find a mate, the options have never been greater. The over 50s are one of the fastest growing groups swelling the massive numbers of people now using online dating. The overall figures are staggering with up to 1200 people each day signing up as members of the largest site, RSVP. Over 11 per cent of RSVP’s two million- plus members are now over 55.
For almost two years, I’ve been working as a dating coach, giving a helping hand to people who are starting online dating; helping them write their profiles and giving advice and support during the process. Many are older divorced women or widows who last dated over 20 or 30 years ago and find it very daunting to realise that now they may have to do the asking. It is mainly proactive women who do well in this competitive market. But they are so thrilled when they do find the right person. A 72 year-old Perth woman recently reported that she was stepping out with a very promising prospect – she’s promised to let me know how things turn out.
But my favourite story came in an email I received recently from an 84 year-old Melbourne man, Peter, who last year met his partner, Lieselotte, 80, online through RSVP. After making contact they spent months emailing and making phone and Skype calls before she finally met him at her local Gold Coast airport. She reports that as soon as she saw him she knew she had ‘found her destiny.’
A great book about senior sex – ‘Naked at Our Age’ Seal Press 2011.
RRP $21.95, buy on Booktopia for $21.40.
Advice for men with erection problems is available from this website www.impotenceaustralia.com.au.
Women experiencing painful sex should read ‘Healing Painful Sex’ Seal Press 2011.
RRP $36.00, buy on Booktopia for $21.95.
My book, ‘The Sex Diaries’ MUP 2009 is based on diaries from 98 couples talking about how they negotiate differences in sexual desire.
RRP $24.99, buy on Booktopia for $19.95.
More recently I published What Men Want MUP 2010, which includes a wealth of material on older men and erection problems.
RRP $34.99, buy on Booktopia for $28.95.
Prices displayed are correct at time of publication. Prices are subject to change at short notice. In these circumstances, the price listed on the YOURLifeChoices website may not be correct. In the event that a price conflict between the YOURLifeChoices website and Booktopia website does occur, Booktopia website prices will override prices listed in the newsletter.