For married couples to stay happy as they grow old together, a healthy and robust sex life is essential, a new study concludes -- and the more sex, the better.
According to research presented at last month's annual meeting of the Gerontological Society of America, the more often a survey of older spouses reported engaging in sexual activity, the more likely they were to find fulfillment in their lives and in their marriages.
In examining the responses of some 238 couples aged 65 or older to the 2004 iteration of the General Social Survey, a national data-collection program focused on U.S. societal structure and development, the researchers found that the frequency of sexual activity often predicted general well-being. That remained true even after accounting for such factors as age, health and financial satisfaction.
For individuals who reported no sexual activity in the past year, only 40 percent said they were "very happy with life." But for respondents who engaged in sexual activity more than once each month, 60 percent said they were very happy with life and 80 percent said they were "very content" in their marriage.
To help get a better handle on the study's results, The Huffington Post spoke with its author, Adrienne Jackson, an assistant professor of physical therapy at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee. Jackson's paper has been submitted for publication in a forthcoming peer-reviewed journal.
What's the relationship between sex and happiness?
Based on the findings, as the frequency of sexual activity goes up, so does your likelihood with being very content in your married life and very happy with life in general. The biggest takeaway is that the things we enjoy in midlife and while we're young don't fundamentally change as we get older. No matter your age, the more frequently you engage in sex and intimacy, the better your ultimate quality of life.
How can older, married couples increase the frequency of intimacy in their marriages?
A lot of the things that limit older people from having sex, whether they're age-related or biological changes, can be addressed. I wanted to put out there that there is a link between quality of life and sex for older people, so those in the medical field can address some of the issues that inhibit intimacy.
What tends to prevent older adults from leading robust and fulfilling sexual lives?
Besides physical limitations, there's this stereotype that once you get to a certain age, you're not supposed to think about sex or enjoy having sex. I think half the battle is society coming to the realization that the same things we enjoyed in midlife aren't things that we necessarily have to give up on as we grow older.
What's the sweet spot in terms of happiness and the frequency of sex?
More than once a month is the sweet spot for people who report at higher rates that they're happy with life.
What does your research tell us about the changing dynamics of marriage and happiness?
As we get older, we found that the number of available women greatly outnumbers the available allotment of men. Also, that a greater share of the men are married. Essentially, the number of available partners decreases. When it comes to sexual partners, older men can often have their pick of whomever.
Were there any limitations to your study?
We didn't look at desire and we didn't examine the cause and effect relationship between having sex and being happy. Essentially, are you happy because you're having sex or are you having sex because you're happy. Also, the sample was fairly small and wasn't racially diverse, though it was reflective of the American population of married couples 65 and older, which is mostly white. But I would have liked to include the perspective of more minorities in this study.
What can older married couples take a way from your research?
If you enjoyed sex when you were 40, there's no reason why you can't do so now.