A quick heads up for those of you who haven't considered the sex lives of your elderly relatives or geriatric ex-boyfriends: Old people fuck too, and they're often pretty good at it.
Unfortunately, enjoying fun and sexy sex in your twilight years might actually lead to health problems in older men—but the same doesn't apply to older women. In fact, enjoying frequent, good sex can actually improve a woman's health, even if that does potentially lead to a heart attack for her male partner. Talk about being a selfless lover.
Research from Michigan State University, published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, looks at the health impacts of regular sexual activity for both genders in later life. A team led by Professor Hui Liu found that older men who reported having frequent, pleasurable sex with a partner were at a higher risk of heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems. The exact opposite was true for women: Regular enjoyable sex could actually lower their blood pressure.
The findings go against an established medical consensus that all sex is good for you. One 2007 study of sexuality and health among older American adults found that having regular sex could foster a good sense of wellbeing. Despite this, there is little data on the sex lives of older generations, and what does exist tends not consider human sexuality in an integrated and holistic way.
"Our understanding of sexology in later life is very limited. When you look at the academic literature it tends to see sex as a physical exercise, but I don't view sex in that way," says Professor Liu. "Sex goes beyond physical exercise; it has psychological meanings. I'm trying to bring an integrated social, psychological, and biological perspective together."
Liu's team conducted a secondary analysis of survey data from 2,204 people aged 57 to 85. They found that men who'd reported having sex at least once a week were twice as likely as sexually inactive men to experience cardiovascular disease—such as a heart attack or stroke—in the following five years. Those who had described their sex life as "extremely pleasurable" or "extremely satisfying" were at an even greater risk than their dissatisfied peers.
Read more: Why Loud Sex Is Good for Your Health
In a rare example of women being rewarded—not punished—for their sexual appetites, Liu found that female participants who described their sex lives as "extremely physically satisfying and/or extremely emotionally satisfying" tended to have a lower risk of hypertension in the next five years of life, compared to women who were not as happy with sex.
"This actually fits with what we know about the academic literature on sexual relationships," Liu explains. "Good relationship quality is more important for women than it is for men." She adds that women in fulfilling sexual partnerships may experience lower levels of stress or anxiety, which can in turn have a beneficial health impact.
I ask why older men have got the stiff end of the deal, so to speak. "There are several possible explanations. When men get older they have to exert themselves to a greater degree to achieve climax, which can hurt their health. They may also be more likely to use supplements to increase their sexual function."
While Liu did not want to be drawn into discussing the dangers of drugs such as Viagra—which has been linked to an increased stroke risk in the past—she did suggest an unlikely reason for why older men are more at risk of health problems.
"Higher frequency sex can indicate other problems, such as sexual addiction, anxiety or depression," Liu argues. "Many men use sexuality as a way to express their masculinity. And if they have sexual dysfunction problems, it can exacerbate their anxiety and depression."
She emphasized not all older men are in danger—just those who have frequent enjoyable sex. "It's not that all sex is bad. We actually find that moderate frequency sex is good for older men. It's just higher frequency sex that could be dangerous."
So if you're a woman who's got a particularly proficient and eager-to-please older gentleman caller, a word of caution: If you plan on keeping him around for a while, go easy on him.