Maggie Syme, PhD, Quoted in APA Article

Psychologists are working as part of health-care teams to help older adults keep their sex lives going strong.

Later-Life Sex

By Rebecca A. Clay

December 2012, Vol 43, No. 11

It's not just in recent movies like "Hope Springs" and "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" that older people are actively seeking out better sex and new sexual partners. Although some psychologists may assume their oldest clients no longer have sex, research confirms that plenty of older adults are still interested and engaging in sex.

Between 20 and 30 percent of men and women in a nationally representative sample of Americans over age 50 remained sexually active well into their 80s, found a study published in 2010 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

Other researchers have found that older people are generally happy with their sex lives. In a 2012 study of women age 40 to 99 published in the American Journal of Medicine, for example, 61 percent reported being satisfied with their sex lives, regardless of whether they had a sex partner or even sexual activity. 

In fact, satisfaction increased with age: The oldest women in the study were nearly twice as likely as the youngest participants to report being "very satisfied" with their sex lives. And the oldest and youngest women were equally satisfied with their ability to reach orgasm.

Working with other health-care professionals and using psychoeducation, cognitive behavioral therapy and other techniques to supplement medical approaches, psychologists are helping ensure that people continue to have healthy, safe and satisfying sex lives regardless of their age. They're helping older people overcome erectile dysfunction, menopause symptoms and other potential barriers to satisfying sex. And they're guiding survivors of prostate cancer, breast cancer and other conditions that often accompany aging in efforts to regain their sexuality.

Assessing older people's sex lives

Many psychologists and other health-care professionals, however, miss an opportunity to help older patients improve their sex lives — simply because they don't ask, says Maggie L. Syme, PhD, a research psychologist for the San Diego State University/University of California San Diego Cancer Center Comprehensive Partnership. (Full Article)

Maggie Syme, PhD, is an adjunct faculty member in USD's Department of Psychological Sciences