They found 70-year-olds of both sexes are having more sex than they did 30 years ago, and many more women report being satisfied with their sex lives.
"Attitudes are more open-minded and positive today, at least in the elderly themselves," said Nils Beckman of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, whose study appears in the British Medical Journal.
Beckman and colleagues interviewed four groups of 70-year-olds in Sweden about their sex lives between 1971 and 2001. They found that 68 percent of married men said they were having sex in 2001, up from 52 percent in the early '70s.
The number of married women having sex rose to 54 percent in the group interviewed in 2000-2001, up from 30 percent in the early 70s.
And 12 percent of unmarried women interviewed in 2000-2001 said they were having sex, up from less than 1 percent in the early '70s. The number of women reporting high sexual satisfaction also increased, with more women reporting an orgasm during sex and fewer reporting never having had one.
Interestingly, the number of men reporting low sexual satisfaction rose. Beckman said in an e-mail this might be because men are now more open in talking about sexual failure.
Overall, he said the changes reflect shifting attitudes about sex in Western societies over the past half century.
"Hopefully it will inspire elderly people to seek help if having sexual problems, and make doctors and other health professionals aware that even elderly people can be or would like to be sexually active," Beckman said.
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