In our book, “The Retirement Maze”, we reported on the results of a survey of more than 1400 retirees (I’m a retired research psychologist and pollster). We looked into how well they adapt to their new stage of life, and what can be done to make retirement more satisfying. One of the many topics we covered was marriage. And one aspect of marriage is sex.
Before getting into the sex habits of retirees, it should be mentioned that sex is good for you. There are countless articles that list the psychological and physiological benefits of an active sex life. Here are a few of the key research findings:
- Improves self-esteem, relieves stress, and improves coping with stressful situations.
- Increases production of hormones which boosts the immune system, repairs tissue, improves cognition, and keeps skin healthy.
- Thirty minutes of sexual activity burns roughly 85 to 150 calories, so you lose roughly a pound for every 42 occasions.
- Increases production of oxytocin, which enhances trust and bonding between partners, along with promoting better sleep.
- Endorphins released during sex have a close resemblance to morphine, helping to reduce physical pain.
- Increases production of testosterone and estrogen. Testosterone helps fortify bones and muscles, and both promote heart health .
Back to retirees. One might presume that, with all the free time and lack of job pressures, their sex lives would blossom, if only for something to do when there’s nothing else. And that’s how it is when they first retire — they’re sexually active and actually feel their sex lives had improved since retiring. But as they settle in to the lifestyle, they tend to have sex less often and seem less interested in sex relative to their working counterparts. Here’s some statistics:
- Of those retired, about 75% have sex regularly (at least once per month) versus 90% among those of the same age who are employed. The average frequency cuts down to about 5 times per month among retirees, versus about 9 times for those still working.
- This is not solely a function of age or health. Among those 55-64 years of age, sexual intimacy occurs 5.9 times per month among retirees, versus 9.6 times among those still working; for those 65 and older, 3.6 times per month for retirees vs. 5.7 times among employees.
- Only 39% of retirees rate their sex life as excellent or very good, versus 50% of those still in the workforce, and about 3 of 10 retirees say their sex lives have gotten worse after retiring, and only 13% say it has gotten better.
It’s hard to say why there’s such a downturn. Retirees on the whole are just as happily married as people who are working. Still, I could guess at a few reasons:
- It might be the amount of time together. This would be in the sense that too much familiarity breeds disinterest, or maybe even contempt. With more opportunities for skirmishes, partners can feel emotionally distanced from each other.
- Maybe it has to do with self-esteem. Retirees rate themselves much lower than those working, and a weakened self-confidence could inhibit sexual desire.
- Retirees feel less energetic. The retirement lifestyle can weaken motivation and even produce laziness, and that may lead to a reduced inclination to have or want sex.
Whatever the reasons, this is not a good thing. Maintaining an active sex life should be high on a retiree’s agenda — you’ll feel more connected with their partner, feel better emotionally and psychologically, and feel more motivated to do other things. This is a health and exercise regimen that you can devote your time and effort to without much chance of getting injured.