People who are in good health are almost twice as likely to be interested in sex compared to those in poor health, according to research published on bmj.com today.
It is already established that sexual activity has health benefits and is linked to living longer. However, this study investigates how general health impacts on the quality of sex.
The study also estimates how many remaining sexually active years healthy men and women have left.
The results reveal that at the age of 30, men have a sexually active life expectancy of nearly 35 years and for women it's almost 31 years. At 55, this figure changes to almost 15 remaining years for men and 10 years for women. This gender difference diminishes for people with a spouse or intimate partner.
While sexually active life expectancy was longer for men, they lost more years of this activity due to poor health than women.
Authors, Stacy Tessler Lindau and Natalia Gavrilova from the University of Chicago, used data from two representative research groups in the US. One group consisted of over 3000 men and women between the ages of 25 and 74 and the other included over 3000 men and women between 57 and 85 years of age.
Participants provided information about their relationship status and rated the quality of their sex lives and how often they had sex. They also rated the level of their general health between poor and excellent.
The results reveal that men are more likely to be sexually active, report a good sex life and be interested in sex than women. This difference was most stark among the 75 to 85 year old group, where almost four out of ten (40%) males compared to less than two out of ten (17%) women were sexually active.
The authors conclude that "sexually active life expectancy estimation is a new life expectancy tool than can be used for projecting public health and patient needs in the arena of sexual health" and that "projecting the population patterns of later life sexual activity is useful for anticipating need for public health resources, expertise and medical services."
In an accompanying editorial, Professor Patricia Goodson from Texas University says Lindau and Gavrilova's research is both refreshing and hopeful. She says: "the study bears good news in the form of hope ... the news that adults in the US can enjoy many years of sexual activity beyond age 55 is promising."
Goodson adds that many unanswered questions remain in the field of older people and sexuality, such as problems with measurement and silence regarding the sexual health of ageing homosexual, bisexual or intersexed people. "They stand as dim reminders of the limitations inherent in applying science to the study of complex human realities, and the cultural values shaping the topics we choose to study, she concludes."