You may not think it is sexy now. But wait until you’ve become a senior citizen. Suddenly, being a “dirty old man or woman” isn’t such a bad thing. In fact, it’s quite good for you — studies actually confirm you need to “use it or lose it.”

So what makes senior sex all that? And how can you make sure that you’re still sexually active as you age?

When it comes to senior sex, we tend to hear about the “problems” that come with getting older. This is largely due to the fact that scant research has been conducted on “normal” sexual behavior later in life. Yet many of today’s elderly are the product of sexually liberated eras.

Well aware of the fact that sex and sensuality in the later years make for greater personal growth and fulfillment, seniors are tending to a better quality of life in the bedroom. Research is starting to reveal that they are quite busy in the boudoir.

According to a British Medical Journal survey, more couples over the age of 70 are having sex than among previous generations. Better yet, they find it quite satisfying. In following the sex lives of 1,500 older people over a 30-year period, researchers at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden learned that a number of married and unmarried men and women were reporting increased sexual intercourse with age.

The number of women reporting orgasms and being highly satisfied with their sex lives rose, too. This is true even when sexual dysfunctions are present!

In surveying Americans, a 2004 AARP study of almost 1,400 individuals 45 and older found that 63 percent of those with a partner described themselves as “extremely” or “somewhat” satisfied. These participants were also the ones who were the most sexually active well in their 70s and 80s.

While interviewing older people, American sex educator Shere Hite discovered that sexual pleasure increased with age. So what makes sex so amazing to all of these seniors? A number of factors play into senior sexual satisfaction, such as:

— Sex is more genuine, intimate and interactive.

— They don’t have to worry about birth control.

— More time is allowed for foreplay. With slower sexual response, older lovers are more pleasure-oriented, and they enjoy the process of warming up more than when they were younger.

— They don’t limit sex play to the genitals.

— Sex has become less predictable and more controllable.

— It’s more focused on eroticism.

— Elders have sexual wisdom.

Sex is an important, positive part of one’s life, so people of all ages should give serious consideration as to how they can maintain a fulfilling sex life.

Use It or Lose It

This is critical given that you need to use it or you’ll lose it. When it comes to female sexual activity after menopause, those who have sex with themselves or a partner have better vaginal lubrication and elasticity of vaginal tissues than those who are abstaining.

Research has also found that prolonged abstinence can promote erectile dysfunction in men. Finnish researchers have reported that older males who have more sex will experience fewer erectile difficulties. A study in the American Journal of Medicine involving 989 men ages 55 to 75 found that having sexual intercourse less than once every week doubled a man’s risk of erectile dysfunction (versus having sex once per week).

Refraining from sex with a partner for an extended period of time can further foster sexual disinterest. Many people without a partner will “turn off” their sexual desire as a coping mechanism. Doing so prevents greater frustration and depression in not being sexually intimate with another.

So how do you make sure that you’re turned on to your sex life in your later years? Key strategies include:

Accepting your body. Don’t compare yourself to younger lovers, including your younger self, when it comes to your appearance or abilities. This will only lead to dissatisfaction.

Realizing that aging doesn’t stop sex. But illness and side-effects of medications can. So be active and informed on any medical conditions that can hamper your sexual intimacy. Communicate with your physician about your sex life. And do so as a couple.

Not putting an emphasis on physical losses. Tap into fhe emotional and relationship qualities that can enhance your sexual response. This starts by seeing your partner as a sexual friend.

Remember what relationship satisfaction is all about. Seniors with higher relationship satisfaction report greater frequencies of kissing, hugging and sexual touch. This greater physical satisfaction ultimately lends itself to more frequent oral sex for women and a higher frequency of intercourse for both men and women.

Stay physically healthy. Exercise and watch what you eat. Don’t smoke, abuse drugs or drink excessive amounts of alcohol.

Don’t buy into the myths, stigmas and negative societal beliefs that older people themselves believe when it comes to senior sex. Many think they are incapable of having sex or that sexual expression isn’t natural or healthy for seniors. Au contraire!

Stay socially connected and active.

This last point is especially important if you’re a woman. Between the ages of 65 to 74, there are only 83 men per 100 women. For those ages 75 to 84, there are only 67 men per 100 women.

Making matters more difficult is that while women are interested in sex, singles have trouble finding partners they like. Thus, sex educator Hite found that some women enjoy sex with younger men or start to relate sexually to other women. If neither is your forte, you need to make sure you are networking with people you can be attracted to.

Lastly, perhaps, the best thing you can do to stay sexually active for a lifetime is to do just that. One researcher suggests that the best predictor of later-in-life sexual activity is the amount you’re having at mid-life. If that’s where you’re at, what better time to get started than right now?

Sexpert Q & A: Can lust turn into love?

Dr. Yvonne K. Fulbright is a sex educator, relationship expert, columnist and founder of Sexuality Source Inc. She is the author of several books including, "Touch Me There! A Hands-On Guide to Your Orgasmic Hot Spots."

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