Lack of a Partner
While the desire for sexual activity can remain strong in later years, interest often outlives opportunity. Having a suitable partner is a major factor in whether and how often older people engage in sexual activity. Although individual char- acteristics are important for attracting a potential partner, events that inﬂuence social relationships are even more important. For example, marriage, remar- riage, separation, divorce, or death of a spouse can inﬂuence opportunities for developing relationships and having sex. Other factors, such as gender, sexual orientation, and the inﬂuence of family and other social networks also affect the chances of ﬁnding a suitable partner.
Older married people are more likely than single people of the same age to report engaging in sexual intercourse. But marriage does not guarantee a partner for life. Health problems that develop over the course of a marriage can interfere with one partner’s or both partners’ ability to engage in sex. Because men have a shorter life expectancy and women tend to marry older men, women are more likely to be widowed. Nearly 34 percent of women and 7 percent of men are wid- owed at ages 55 to 59; 60 percent of women and only 18 percent of men are wid- owed at age 85 or older.
Sexual activity can also include a range of behaviors that do not require a part- ner. Erotic dreams and fantasies represent mental sources of arousal and pleasure that can occur when one is alone. Sexual fantasies and dreams allow for an acceptable expression of sexual feelings and can provide an avenue for sexual expression when other forms of sex are unavailable. Older adults seem to enjoy both forms of sexuality. Masturbation is a healthy and readily available form of sexual activity that can be practiced alone and can provide sexual release for both men and women.