Are Baby Boomers having the best time in bed?

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Older adults are often passed over in conversations about intimacy. But they may be having more fun than everyone else.

Society loves to focus on the sex and dating lives of Gen Z and millennials. How are they dating, what sexual orientations are they identifying with and what are their relationships like? But as glossy as young love may be, dating and sex don’t begin and end in young adulthood. 

In fact, both activities can improve significantly with age. Multiple studies show people who’ve lived longer may just be having the best sex. For example, a 2016 study of more than 6,000 adults in the US showed “age had a positive relationship with sexual quality of life”, with researchers concluding that older respondents had developed what they dubbed “sexual wisdom” – which referred to not just sexual prowess, but also respondents’ aptitude as a considerate and giving partner. 

“With life experience, people might be learning more about their own sexual preferences and their partners’ likes and dislikes,” says Miriam Forbes, senior research fellow at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, who worked on the study. 

Similarly, research on the sex lives of adults in their 60s to 80s, conducted by Dr Peggy Kleinplatz, director of the optimal sexual-experiences research team at the University of Ottawa, overwhelmingly showed the subjects’ intimate lives had improved with the years. And a 2018 study out of Israel showed that adults aged 60 to 91 had transitioned their focus “from lust to love” and from “getting to giving” sex over time. 

With a body of research suggesting skill, expertise and better communication in both sexual and romantic desires come with experience, younger people may stand to learn much about relationships from their older peers. It could even reshape the narrative of our sexual journeys, deconstructing traditional notions of who is having the best sex and when.

Intimacy among older adults is getting more time in the spotlight, with shows like Grace and Frankie (Credit: Netflix)

Intimacy among older adults is getting more time in the spotlight, with shows like Grace and Frankie (Credit: Netflix)

A closer look at senior intimacy 

Increasing public interest in senior dating and sexuality is a new phenomenon. 

When Dr Stacy Lindau started as a medical student in the mid-1990s in Rhode Island, US, she was taught to ask her older patients about their sexual histories – but she noticed her teachers weren’t doing that themselves. Nevertheless, she did ask – and the questions about her patients’ past experiences elicited a “twinkle in their eye”, she says. “They came to life and had a story to tell.” 

If simply asking older patients about their intimate lives had this positive effect, it certainly seemed like an area worth studying to figure out how to address their overall wellness. But Lindau noticed that while studies had been conducted to focus on the sexual behaviours of younger adults, none centred on those 60 and up. The studies on younger people received funding because their cohort was most affected by HIV/AIDS, suggests Lindau, a popular and crucial research subject at that time. However, as effective treatments for HIV/AIDs extended the lives of those living with the virus, research on the subject shifted to encompass older people. Meanwhile, the “successful marketing of erectile dysfunction drugs” added another influence that “really opened the door” for studying sexuality among older adults, says Lindau. 

This helped Lindau get funding for the study she and colleagues conducted, published in 2008. Featuring more than 3,000 US adults aged 57 to 85, Lindau’s study revealed that more than half of people between 65 and 74 years old had had sex at least once in the previous year, but that older adults weren’t particularly likely to discuss their sex lives with physicians. The study also served as a template that paved the way for similar longitudinal studies on intimacy among older adults in both the UK and Ireland

Meanwhile, in her clinical work, Lindau continued to discuss the sex and dating lives of people in their 60s and 70s. Along with learning about her older patients’ continued interest in maintaining active sex lives, she also learned that dating apps had “become more mainstream” among older people, allowing them to put themselves out there in a way that wasn’t quite available in the past. 

“Another theme I heard is what a gift it is to age,” says Lindau. Her patients, many of whom had survived cancer or other illnesses, were learning how to embrace the aging process in part by adapting their sex and dating lives to their current realities, essentially turning age-related obstacles into creative learning experiences. 

This attitude is reflected in the aforementioned studies focused on intimacy among people in their 60s and older, and in Kleinplatz’s research on people in that age group from all over the world. “We learned that ‘great lovers’ are made, not born,” says Kleinplatz. “Typically, the peak sexual experiences began in midlife and beyond.” 

In other words, these researchers showed the path to sexual fulfilment was one that almost necessarily took time. And that “sexual wisdom” Forbes discussed in her research doesn’t just make intimacy possible at older ages – it often makes it better.

“Typically, the peak sexual experiences began in midlife and beyond" – Dr Peggy Kleinplatz (Credit: Getty Images)

“Typically, the peak sexual experiences began in midlife and beyond" – Dr Peggy Kleinplatz (Credit: Getty Images)

Reframing the sexual journey 

The generation of sexual liberation is indeed having sex – and perhaps better sex than everyone else. 

And although many people may still feel prickly talking about the romantic lives of older adults, this group is increasingly gaining voice – and ultimately normalising their positive sexual experiences. On television, shows that depict older adults as they navigate romance and sexuality, like Grace and Frankie and The Kominsky Method, are on the rise; many seniors are also getting to speak on the joys and challenges of sex in later life (and even about living their best sex lives in their 70s). 

This narrative shift can help put the sex lives of younger adults in perspective. Instead of hearing the usual (and not especially scientific) statistics about men hitting their sexual peaks at 18 and women doing so at 35, these closer looks at older adults’ intimate lives challenge the viewpoint that a booming sex and dating life must be achieved in a person’s 20s or 30s – or else they’ve missed their window. On the contrary, sex lives can be thought of as a holistic journey, one that improves with time and experience. 

“By the time you’re old, you’ve learned how to work around things,” says Dossie Easton, 78, author of The Ethical Slut. “Experience gives us a wider repertoire and more of a way to match with any given person.” And the data appears to agree – great sex is far from limited to the young; it’s part of a future that younger sexually active people are working towards.