What about a sexless marriage after sixty?
by Dr. Andrew D. Atwood, LMFT
We may be getting older, but we are still willing and able. That is the word that is coming to us, the aging Baby Boomers, from the researchers who are studying the generation just in front of us. Based on that, some interesting extrapolations are being made.
Look at the “old folks” today and you will see people in their 50’s who are attending college, people in their 60’s who are starting new business ventures, people in their 70’s who are playing soccer regularly, and you will even find people in their 80’s who are having sex on a regular basis!
Well, what do you know…?
A Yale University study last year was sited in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and the comments were most fascinating. This is very important for anyone over 50, so pay attention and listen to the good news. People who have a positive perception of aging tend to live 7 ½ years longer than those with negative perceptions about aging. Maybe it is the will to live, or maybe it is a better way of handling stress. Whatever, a positive attitude about aging makes a huge difference.
A North Caroline State University in Raleigh study found that memory studies can intimidate elderly people into performing poorly. If you are over 50, and some researcher comes along and tells you that “you are over 50, and so we are going to test your memory to see how much memory loss you have,” well, you are going to score worse… WORSE… than if the researcher had just tested you without the threatening characterization. We are impacted by our expectations, by the perceptions, expectations, assumptions that we live with. If you think you are young and vigorous, by golly, you might just be young and vigorous!
Recent research reported in the Journal of Gerontology found that older people scored 20% to 30% worse on memory test after reading a pessimistic newspaper account about aging and memory. Those who read a cheerful article did way better.
People who are optimistic about life as they age also seem to take control of their health and their lifestyle. The nasties of obesity, smoking, excessive alcohol and drug abuse… all are curbed by optimistic attitudes about remaining healthy.
The National Institutes of Health says that 55% of Americans are overweight, and 22% are obese. That’s 1 out of 5 Americans. Incredible. And the rates are even higher if you are over 55 years of age. This doesn’t bode well for our health.
Cognitive health is important, too. While some memory loss is normal, it doesn’t have to be very significant. Research has found that we can keep learning as long as we keep living. Our brains begin to prune at an early age, but they specialize and can stay very sharp in areas where cognitive functioning have stayed sharp and in tune. Use it, or loose it. That’s the rule.
How about sex?
The American Urological Association had a meeting recently, and a study was presented at that meeting that reported how sexy senior citizens really can be.
More than 4,000 people between the ages of 40 and 80 were polled in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. About 30% of men aged 70 to 80 reported having sex 5 times in the past 30 days. However, only 8% of the women reported have sex in the last 30 days. Most women said they didn’t have sex because they didn’t have a partner, most likely because of being widowed.
40% of the men reported have sexual problems, such as erectile dysfunction. This statistic seems to match my own clinical experience. The aging process can take its toll in some real physical ways.
However, exercise seems to be tremendously important. It might be the ultimate antidote. As we age the medical community tends to give us more and more pills.
But get this: Exercise helps sex!
Researchers from the Cologne University Medical Center in Germany studied men with circulatory problems. Some were prescribed exercise, some Viagra, and some a placebo. The exercise group, which focused on working pelvis and leg muscles, reported 80% better erections. 80%! Viagra resulted in 74% increase.
And social networks are very important as well. Apparently, we are healthier if we have a strong social support system according to another study from the University of California at Irvine (where I lived way back in 1974). In this study, people ages 58 to 90 who described themselves as lonely were especially at risk for illness.
So what’s the bottom line?
Live a smart and healthy life, and you have the best opportunity for living a smart and healthy life… and that includes sex!