People in the U.K. are having sex into their 70s, though the average frequency for men and women of all ages has declined over the last decade, according to the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles.
Economic problems, unemployment and the increase in use of technology have had a negative effect on libido, according to the survey, whose results were published in a number of articles in The Lancet today. While people think sex is more widely available, with more explicit television, film or social networks, people aren’t having any more sex than a decade ago, the authors said.
The frequency of sex among men and women ages 16 to 44 has fallen over the last decade, from an average of 6.2 and 6.3 times a month respectively, to just under five times for both.
“Although we’ve seen a decline in average frequency, we have to take into account that fewer people are living with their sexual partner,” Catherine Mercer, a senior lecturer at the Centre for Sexual Health and HIV Research at University College London and one of the leaders of the study, told a news conference.
More than 15,000 adults between the ages of 16 and 74 participated in the survey between September 2010 and August 2012. It is the third such survey, with previous ones taken in 1990 and 2000, yet the first to include individuals up to the age of 74. The study was funded by the U.K. Medical Research Council and The Wellcome Trust as well as the Economic & Social Research Council and the Department of Health.
While a decrease in sexual activity is associated with increasing age, about half of people surveyed between the ages of 65 and 74 reported having had sexual activity in the past year. The findings show that as people are living longer and having sex beyond their reproductive years, there should be more discussion between health professionals and patients about sexual activity, the authors said.
“People are more willing to tell us about their sexual behavior than their income,” said Kaye Wellings, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and a study author.
Lower levels of satisfaction with sex life was linked to poorer health, even after adjusting for age and relationship status, Nigel Field, an academic clinical lecturer at the Centre for Sexual Health and HIV Research, said in an interview. One in six men and women in the survey said their health affected their sex lives. Sexual problems can be a marker of disease, Field said, as certain conditions can cause impotence or dysfunction.
Yet a third of those who said they were in bad health reported recent sexual activity and just under half in that group said they were satisfied with their sex life. While four out of 10 men and half of women polled said they had a recent sexual problem, only one of 10 reported being worried or distressed about their sex life.
“We may not be having the quantity or type of sex we see in films or porn, but what’s refreshing is that nine out of 10 in the population aren’t worried about their sex life,” Mercer said in an interview.
The survey also showed that people are more accepting of same-sex relationships and less tolerant of sex outside of marriage.
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