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'Americans still have sex in their eighties'

Yet doctors don't appear to be talking to their older patients about sex.

world Updated: Aug 23, 2007 13:33 IST

A significant number of octogenarian Americans are still having sex, a new study shows.

Yet doctors don't appear to be talking to their older patients about sex -- a trend that may have to change as more treatments for age-related sexual dysfunction have now become available, it further says.

"Sex among older adults is the last taboo in the United States," Dr Virginia Sadock, professor of psychiatry and director of the Program of Human Sexuality at New York University was quoted as saying.

ABC television network reported the study which was released on Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study surveyed 3,005 men and women in the United States over the age of 57. Researchers, with the study, hoped to better understand the decline in sexual activity as one ages, as well as the differences between the sex lives of older men and older women.

The study found that among adults 57 to 64 years of age, 73 per cent reported recent sexual activity. This number declined to 53 per cent among those aged 65 to 74 and to 26 per cent among those who were 75 to 85 years old.

But although the percentage of individuals who are sexually active decreases with age, the study, says ABC, highlights the fact that a "substantial number of men and women continue to engage in sexual activity."

Lead study author Dr Stacey Lindau, an obstetrician and gynecologist at the University of Chicago, was quoted as saying that a general lack of basic information on sexuality and the elderly prompted her to look for more information in this area.

"When I asked questions in my practice [about sexuality], I found that people had a lot to say," she said. "They also said, 'No one ever asked me that before.'"

As ageing baby boomers progress into their 60s and 70s, Lindau said, such research is becoming more relevant to the population as a whole. "There is an ageing population in the United States, and we need to know about their sexuality and health," she said.

Moreover, it seems that seniors who keep things spicy between the sheets may also be in a better state of health in general -- making a healthy sex life a good indicator of overall health.

"The capacity of sex is very much related to the condition of health," Sadock, who is unaffiliated with the study, was quoted by ABC as saying. "There are essentially two groups of aging people, the elderly and the wellderly," she said. "And the 'wellderly' are much more likely to have sex."

Among those surveyed for the study, 78 per cent of men aged 75 to 85 reported having a spousal or other intimate relationship, while only 40 per cent of women reported the same.

In an editorial that accompanies the study, Dr John Bancroft of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction in Bloomington, Ind, cites relationship and intimacy as one of the major motivations for sex in women, says ABC.

"Being in a caring and intimate relationship is of extreme importance, especially for women," Sadock said. Women also appear more likely to rate sex as an unimportant part of life, and they were more likely to report that they no longer get pleasure from sex.

Physicians, the reports says, also cite physiological reasons for these differences.