Septuagenarian women in particular expressed satisfaction with their amorous activities, suggesting they may have benefited more from the loosening of sexual mores.
Despite an array of literature on the sexual habits and attitudes of younger adults, very little is known about what happens between the sheets for healthy men and women aged 70 and older.
Previous research has tended to focus on what goes wrong, sexually speaking, which has created the impression that the sex life of older people is dismal or non-existent.
Not true, according to Nils Beckman, a doctoral candidate at the University of Gothenburg.
“Our study shows that most elderly people consider sexual activity and associated feelings a natural part of later life,” he said.
Compared to the same age group in 1971, nearly twice as many married female septuagenarians reported having sexual intercourse in 2001, and a sharply higher percentage said they “always or usually” experienced orgasms, noted the study.
And while more than 10 percent of women interviewed 40 years ago had never had sex at all, by century’s end that percentage had dropped to 0.4 percent — a single respondent out of 229.
For men, too, sex at 70 on the cusp of the 21st century seemed to bring more pleasure than for older men of a previous generation.
But the news was not totally good: more men in 2001 also complained of low or no satisfaction, perhaps reflecting a cultural shift in openness in talking
And while the number of men reporting erectile dysfunction dropped, a higher number of men said they had ejaculation problems. The rate of premature ejaculation did not change.
Beckman and colleagues studied attitudes towards sex in later life based on interviews with Swedish 70-year-olds at four different points in time: 1972, 1977, 1993 and 2001.
The study is published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).
“The implication is that a generation’s sexual change — perhaps linked to the sexual revolution of 1965-75 — is evident in this latest cohort of 70-year-olds,” Peggy Kleinplatz, a professor at the University of Ottawa in Canada, wrote in a commentary, also in the BMJ.