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Sex and the over sixties

People who stay in good health can enjoy an active sex life well into their sixties and beyond, research suggests.

Two American studies into sexual behaviour estimated how many years of active sex people generally have left at different stages of their lives.

Aged 30, men have a sexually active life expectancy of nearly 35 years while women can expect another 31 years of sex. But by the age of 55, men in continuing good health can hope for another 15 years while women generally have another 11 years of sexual activity.

The research on more than 6,000 people examined data from one representative group of adults aged 25 to 74 and another group aged 57 to 85.

People were interviewed and filled in questionnaires on their marital status, the quality of their sex lives and how often they had sex. They were also asked to rate the condition of their health on a scale between poor and excellent.

Men reported being more interested in sex overall and were more likely to report a good sex life than women. Those in good health are almost twice as likely to be interested in sex compared with those who are ill or in poorer health. They are also likely to have regular sex -- once or more a week -- and report better quality lovemaking, experts found.

The difference between the genders was most noticeable among the 75 to 85 age group, where 39pc of men compared with 17pc of women were sexually active.

At age 55, men in very good or excellent health on average gained five to seven years of sexually active life compared with their peers in poor or fair health. Meanwhile, women in very good or excellent health gained three to six years compared with women in poor or fair health.

Stacy Tessler Lindau and Natalia Gavrilova, who led the research at the University of Chicago, said that the use of treatments for erectile dysfunction, such as Viagra, was likely to have contributed to longer sex lives.

But, they added: "About half of all sexually active men and women aged 57 to 85 in the United States report at least one bothersome sexual problem; one third report at least two. Yet doctors rarely address sexual concerns in older adults, particularly in women."

According to a 2008 survey by Saga magazine, 65pc of over-50s in Britain are sexually active, with 46pc claiming to have sex once a week. But further research has found that middle-aged people are ignoring the risks of contracting a sexual disease.

Emma Soames, the editor at large at Saga, said the US research showed that people could still enjoy an active sex life "way past the date they picked up a bus pass".

The British Family Planning Association said that people whose marriage or long-term relationships broke up in middle age were often at risk of having unsafe sex. Rebecca Findlay, spokeswoman for the sexual health charity, said: "This really illustrates that good sexual health and sexual pleasure don't come attached to an age tag -- the oldest caller to our FPA helpline was in his eighties.

"Many over-50s are actively dating again. Often we find their sexual health knowledge is quite poor because they haven't had to think about it for a long while. So FPA encourages them to respect and think about their sexual health in exactly the same way that we get young people to.

"If they haven't used a condom for 20 years, for example, there may be understandable feelings of awkwardness and embarrassment, so providing the sexual health information skills and support to do so is essential."