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No Orgasms For You, Old Ladies

echidneofthesnakess Icon Posted by Echidne of the Snakes

March 10th, 2010

Want to take a walk with me? We shall stroll down the virtual path I took this morning after seeing the headlines in my Google news about a new study which has tried to map out a person’s “sexual life expectancy”: the expected number of year of sexually active life one can anticipate to have left at any given age.

The headlines told me that the study found a correlation between good health and a longer sex life for both sexes but more for men. They also told me that men had the longer “sexual life expectancy.” From the abstract of the study:

Overall, men were more likely than women to be sexually active, report a good quality sex life, and be interested in sex. These gender differences increased with age and were greatest among the 75 to 85 year old group: 38.9% of men compared with 16.8% of women were sexually active, 70.8% versus 50.9% of those who were sexually active had a good quality sex life, and 41.2% versus 11.4% were interested in sex.

This made a few of the articles start with sentences to make you feel all vigorous and virile while sipping your coffee:

Men have shorter life spans than women on average, but when it comes to sexual life expectancy, the guys have the advantage.

WEDNESDAY, March 10, 2010 (Health.com) — Some might call it a fair trade: Women tend to live longer than men, but men have longer—and better—sex lives in their later years, new research shows.

Spring is coming, and a young man’s thoughts turn to … you know. Apparently, old men’s thoughts turn to the same subject.

Women may live longer, but it appears men are more likely to go out with a smile.

Note the essentialism in these? Men have better sex lives just because they are men. And note the whiff of gender wars there? Men having the advantage? (It’s odd how actual gender war thinking is almost always this kind,not the feminazi kind.)

Are you still with me? What I did next is read a NPR blog on the study. After all, that’s Liberalism Central. Here’s what it said:

It’s a stereotype, the aging man still keenly interested in sex, the aging woman, not so much.

Some University of Chicago researchers have added statistical support for the cliche, with data indicating that, yes, more men of a certain age do seem more excited by sex than women of the same age.

The study doesn’t get into why this should be. It does make you wonder why the difference, One possible theory is that as far as nature is concerned, sex is really about reproduction despite the moral, cultural overlay we humans place on it.

If that’s so, then men’s longer interest in sex relative to women would make sense since it would somewhat track the differences in male and female fertility.

This is where you take something for your upset stomach and get the pliers from the basement to open your jaw.

Then you go and read more about the study and find some astonishing things. Such as interviews with the lead researcher! Who tells us this:

One reason why older women are less sexually active than men may be because they don’t have a partner, or because their partner is no longer healthy enough to have sex. “Women outlive their marriages and their relationships,” Dr. Lindau says.

She and her colleagues found that as women aged, they were far less likely than men to be married or living with a partner. In one of the surveys the authors used, just 58% of the women ages 65 to 74 had a partner, compared to 79% of men in the same age bracket. Among 75- to 85-year-olds, 72% of men still had a partner, compared to just 39% of women.

When women did have a partner, they were almost as likely as their male counterparts to be sexually active, although they tended to give their sex lives lower marks than men did. In every age group included in the surveys, a smaller percentage of women than men described their sex life as “good” overall.

Bolds are mine.

Imagine that! I should also tell you that this study defined sex as heterosexual activity with someone else. People not engaged in heterosexual activity were not included (which the researcher would have liked to have changed) and neither was masturbation counted. Only heterosexual activity with someone else. That’s worth repeating, because the quality of that sex does also depend on that “someone else.”

Women tend to have older husbands and the ill health of their husbands could well be one of the reasons for not much sex even in intact relationships.

Let’s check if Dr. Lindau said anything more about the study. Yup:

Part of the answer may be pharmacological. Men who responded to the sexual health questions in 2005 and 2006 reported a significantly increased interest in sex compared with men who took the survey 10 years earlier. Women didn’t show a change. That might not be a coincidence, Lindau said.

“Over time, we’ve seen the introduction of really effective treatments for male erectile dysfunction, which is one of the most common problems for men as they get older,” she said. “For women we haven’t seen the same.”

Bolds are mine.

So Viagra might have played a role here, too. Now go back with me to the NPR blog, just to see what is acceptable in a review of a study:

One possible theory is that as far as nature is concerned, sex is really about reproduction despite the moral, cultural overlay we humans place on it.

If that’s so, then men’s longer interest in sex relative to women would make sense since it would somewhat track the differences in male and female fertility.


Now that we have finished our morning stroll I want to remind you that I’m not criticizing the study itself (yet, at least) but the way it is reported in a few sources. Neither am I making any kind of assumptions about the sexual lives of elderly women in a feminist utopia or with some female equivalent of Viagra. All I wanted to do was to show you the man behind the curtain in those popularizations.

He is fondling himself.
Cross-posted on my blog Echidne of the snakes.

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