And more than half of men (54 per cent) and almost a third of women (31 per cent) aged over 70 said they were still sexually active – with a third of those having “frequent” sex of at least twice a month.
More than 7,000 people took part in the research for the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA), led by Dr David Lee, an Age UK research fellow at the University of Manchester’s school of social sciences.
Dr Lee said: “This is the first nationally representative study to include people over the age of 80, when asking older men and women in England about their sexual health.
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“We hope our findings improve public health by countering stereotypes and misconceptions about late-life sexuality, and offer older people a reference against which they may relate their own experiences and expectations.
“Our ongoing research is also highlighting the diversity of late-life sexualities, and trying to impose youthful norms of sexual health on older people would be over-simplistic and even unhelpful.”
Problems most frequently reported by sexually active women related to becoming sexually aroused (32 per cent) and achieving orgasm (27 per cent), while for men it was erectile difficulties – 39 per cent.
Men were also more concerned about their sexual activities and function than women and, with increasing age, these concerns tended to become more common. Sexually active women were less dissatisfied with their overall sex lives than men, and also reported decreasing levels of dissatisfaction with increasing age.
The study also found that many septuagenarians and octogenarians were still affectionate towards their partners, with 31 per cent of men and 20 per cent of women reporting frequent kissing or petting.
Among those who reported any sexual activity in the past three months, one per cent of men and 10 per cent of women reported they felt obligated to have sex.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: “The fact this is the first time that people over 80 years old have been included in this kind of research highlights how often the public health needs of older people, including sexual health, are ignored or overlooked.
“With an ageing population, it is important that providers of sexual health services understand the needs of older people in both clinical settings and when developing information and advice. These recent findings now need to be used to improve sexual health advice and information for older people.”
The research paper, entitled Sexual Health and Wellbeing Among Older Men and Women in England, is published in the American academic journal, Archives of Sexual Behavior.
More information is also available at www.ageuk.org.uk.