Four in 10 men over 75 say they are still having sex (but only two in 10 women)

Survey reveals a startling increase in libido among the 'Viagra generation'

The feminist academic Camille Paglia once described sex at age 90 as "like trying to shoot pool with a rope". But despite her coruscating verdict sexual life expectancy is increasing, researchers say.

A study published today shows that among 75 to 85 year olds, four out of 10 men and two out of 10 women are still having sex – or they claim to, at least.

All sex surveys based on self reports are bedevilled by the accuracy of measurement. It is hard to be sure whether the gender imbalance shows the resilience of male interest in sex or the resilience of their propensity to boast about it.

But the researchers say there is a simpler explanation. Men tend to marry women younger than themselves and die sooner; more women are widowed and thus lack a partner with whom to have sex. Men can therefore look forward to longer active sex lives than women, though women seem unperturbed by it.

The study, by academics at Chicago University in the US, estimates for the first time the "sexually active life expectancy" of men and women at different ages. It shows that at the age of 30, men have a sexually active life expectancy of nearly 35 years; for women it is almost 31 years. At age 55, the expectancy changes to almost 15 years for men and 10 years for women.

The findings, published in the British Medical Journal, are based on results from two surveys, each of 3,000 men and women. One subject group was aged 25 to 74 and the other was aged 57 to 85.

The two studies offered different definitions of "sexual activity". The first, among the younger age group, defined it as "any mutually voluntary activity with another person that involved sexual contact, whether or not intercourse or orgasm occurred" during the previous six months.

This elaborate construction may reflect the confusion many Americans feel about what counts as sexual activity. When Bill Clinton famously declared of his aide Monica Lewinsky "I did not have sex with that woman", he was telling the truth in the eyes of a large percentage of his countrymen (and women) whom surveys showed agreed that oral sex did not count as "having sex".

The second survey among the 57 to 85 group used the simpler definition of "having had sex with anyone" but over a longer period of 12 months.

The researchers say the results show that, unremarkably, people in good health are almost twice as likely to be interested in sex as those in poor health. Men have more sex and more interest in sex at all ages, and the gender gap widens with advancing years.

The big factor that limits sexual activity is a man's health, not a woman's. Many illnesses, such as diabetes, heart trouble and prostate cancer, affect a man's capacity to have and maintain an erection. Though women are prey to similar illnesses, they "typically do not render a woman physically incapable of sexual intercourse", the researchers say.

The effect of the Viagra generation can be seen in the growth of interest in sex among older men over the past 10 years, but interest in sex has remained unchanged among women. The researchers say: "The difference may partly reflect the introduction of the highly effective and widely promoted male erectile dysfunction drugs to the US and European markets, beginning with sildenafil [Viagra] in 1998."

In a study in 2005, more than 14 per cent of US men said they had taken drugs or supplements in the previous year to improve sexual performance. Overall, most sexually active men report a good-quality sex life but only half of sexually active women do. This contradicts the findings of Swedish poll three years ago, which showed that female sexual satisfaction had increased while satisfaction among men had decreased.

Men are still blamed, by both sexes, for when sex ends. Peggy Kleinplatz, from the school of psychology at the University of Ottawa, Canada, said in a commentary on the Swedish study that this finding had been consistent for the past 40 years.

"Even if women are coming into their own sexually – and are more satisfied than ever in the latest cohort – years of men being in charge of making the first move in adolescent sexual encounters in the 1940s and during marriage in early adulthood in the 1950s and 1960s has led to the expectation that men remain responsible for making sex happen. Thus, attributing responsibility for the frequency or lack of sex to men continues," she added.

An editorial in the BMJ hails the latest study for its "health enhancing, health promoting perspective", because most sex research centres on problems.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

    £26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

    Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

    £24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

    Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

    £22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions