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Question: What are some of the major issues elderly people face when it comes to sex? 

Patricia Bloom: Some of the major issues are, I think, stereotype-y, especially younger people. I mean, there’s all kinds of jokes about that. Whatever... I guess I won’t cite the jokes, but just the humorous view that old people would be sexually active. But for older individuals themselves, I guess one of the biggest issues is having a partner because you know, if you know anything about the demographics of aging, it’s a predominantly female population. I think when you get to age 100, it’s about 10 to 1, I think, females to males. But even younger than that, you know women live longer than men. So for a lot of people who have lost their partner, just having a partner is a big issue. So that’s one issue. 

Then I think what people think about mostly when they think about sexuality in the elderly is if you lose the ability to be sexually active, and that is an issue; for men it’s erectile dysfunction, and for women having other problems at night arise with the actual act of sex. But what’s interesting—first of all, there’s ways to deal with that, you know, now in this day and age there are numerous interventions that are very successful. There are erectile dysfunction drugs for one thing that have kind of revolutionized male sexuality in older years. I think education is important. I think for older people to understand that their bodies undergo certain predictable changes which might change the actual physical act of sexual intercourse, but which don’t preclude it. And sometimes just knowing what those changes are... for instance, for men, just that they need to have actual—they don’t get an erection just by thinking about things the way they might have in the past, there has to be actual physical stimulation, it can take longer. Certain phases of the sex act cycle are prolonged. So, I think more knowledge can be helpful.

But for a lot of older people, it’s really not the sexual intercourse part that’s so important, it’s really the intimacy. The ability to touch, to be physically intimate, as I said, to have a partner. So, there’s a lot of issues, but what’s interesting is that a lot of older people are interested in having some aspect of sexual expression, whether it’s intercourse or not. So, that’s coming out a lot more. I think the Baby Boomers aging are kind of throwing a whole bunch of things up in the air. You know, they are determined to do it in a different way and they don’t want to be that frail person that everyone thinks of when they think of getting older. So, they are really kind of pushing the envelope in terms of physical activity, staying healthy, aging well, and you know, being sexually active into late years is I think part of that. So, probably it’s going to just become more prevalent that older individuals are interested in being sexually active. 

Question: Does sex have the power to prolong a life? 

Patricia Bloom: There are actually some data that suggest that, for instance, men who have—and I can’t give you the exact numbers—but men who have two climaxes a week add so many years onto their life. I don’t know how good that research data is. It may very well be that men who are able to have sexual activity tend to be healthier, and therefore they live longer. But having said that, whether it’s true or not that having sexual intercourse a certain number of times gives you a certain number of years of life, I think it’s very true that the engagement, the social engagement, the interaction, the meaningfulness that sex and social engagement and being connected brings to life, that’s definitely been shown to not only prolong life, but also to greatly enhance the quality of life, however long it is. 

Recorded on April 14, 2010

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