19 May


If one accepts the notion that sexuality generally and sexual desire in particular may be different in men and women, another question quickly follows: “when considering sexual desire, what is ‘normal’ for men?” A corollary to this question is: “since there is a general understanding that sexual activity changes with age, what represents normal sexual desire for men as they get older?”

An exceptional source of information on men and sexuality (including sexual desire) is the Massachusetts Male Aging Study (MMAS), a survey that involved a random sample of men in the general population aged 40 – 70, and one in which questions were asked about sexual issues from the viewpoint of both behavior and subjective thinking (9). A total of 1709 men participated in the  study.  A  self-administered  questionnaire  included  23  items  on  such sex-related subjects as: satisfaction; frequency of activity; frequency of desire; frequency of thoughts, fantasies, or erotic dreams; frequency of erections and erectile difficulties; orgasm difficulties; genital pain; frequency of ejaculation; and attitudes to sexual changes with age. Reports were divided into two cat- egories: behavioral  and  subjective  phenomena. Only  the  latter  will  receive comment here, as sexual desire is a subjective phenomenon (which, indeed, might have behavioral consequences but far from always).

Results of the survey indicated “a consistent and significant decline with age in feeling desire, in sexual thoughts and dreams, and in the desired level of sexual activity.” The decline in sexual interest neither preceded nor followed a similar decline in sexual behavior or events. “They appeared to occur together. Since the data were cross-sectional, it was not possible to answer the question about which came first … there was no evidence here of a disjunction between the level of sexual activity desired and the level of activity actually reported; it is not the case that as men age they desire at a level that is different from that which they report.” However, the authors also found that satisfaction did not follow the same path in that “… men in their sixties reported levels of satisfaction with their sex life and partners at about the same level as younger men in their forties.”

The authors of the MMAS considered many factors that might be associ- ated with the decline in sexual interest and found that “aging and its social cor- relates … were  strongly  predictive  of  decreased  involvement  with  sexual activity … (and that) … good health was associated with more involvement .. .” The authors concluded that the MMAS study, by considering men in their middle years, goes part  way towards filling the  gap of “up-to-date  normative  data available to inform clinicians as to the usual levels of activity and interest of normally aging men.”

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