Allow me to start this blog with a slightly shortened and edited version of joke that a friend sent me:

Upon hearing that her grandfather had just passed away, Katie went to her grandparent's house to comfort her 95 year-old grandmother. When Katie asked how her grandfather had died, her grandmother replied, "He had a heart attack while we were making love on Sunday morning." Horrified, Katie told her grandmother that 2 people nearly 90 years old having sex would surely be asking for trouble. "Oh no, my dear," replied granny. "Many years ago, realizing our advanced age, we figured out the best time to do it was when the church bells would start to ring. It was just the right rhythm. Nice and slow and even. Nothing too strenuous, simply in on the Ding and out on the Dong." She paused to wipe away a tear, and continued, "He'd still be alive if the ice cream truck hadn't come along.

While this joke may produce a chuckle, like much pertaining to mid- and later-life sexuality, it is ripe with myths.

First, it implies that older adults don't have intercourse and if they do, it's dangerous—even life threatening! The reality is that, according to data provided by the Kinsey Institute, while the frequency of penile-vaginal intercourse decreases with age among heterosexual couples, sexual activity (which entails much more than intercourse) continues. As just one example, according to information provided by the Kinsey Institute, among 60 - 69-year-olds, 38% of the men and 25% of the women reported receiving oral sex from an opposite sex partner in the last year.

Also, again, while frequency of intercourse decreases, it doesn't disappear. Of note, Kinsey Institute data tells us that among those 70 years and older, 43% of men and 22% of women reported having penile-vaginal intercourse in the last year.

Uh-oh! Aren't these older men putting their lives in danger? Couldn't they suffer from death by ice-cream truck like the poor fellow in the joke? Despite stories of men having heart attacks during sex, one study followed a group of 914 forty-five to fifty-nine year-old men for twenty years and found that men who had intercourse two or more times a week cut their risk of having a fatal heart attack in half, when compared to men who had intercourse less than once a month. In a follow-up study looking at these same men across a ten-year time-span, mortality risk was 50% lower in men who reported a high frequency of orgasm when compared with men who reported a low frequency. Additionally, a study published in 2004 in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that men who ejaculate frequently may be protecting themselves against prostate cancer.

Sex isn't just healthy for men; it provides health benefits for women as well. As one example, during orgasm, women's Kegal muscles involuntarily contract. Such muscle flexing improves bladder health and decreases women's risk of having incontinence-related problems. Sex is also good for women's (and men's) immune systems. In one study, women who had genital contact or stimulation from their partner once or twice a week had higher amounts of immunoglobulin A (an antibody that is the body's first line of defense in fighting off disease and infections) than those who had sex less than once a week or not at all. These and many other health benefits of sex are listed in a chapter in my book, A Tired Woman's Guide to Passionate Sex. This chapter is titled, "Sex: Fun, Free and Good for You!" The citations for the studies cited in this (and other) chapters can be found at my website (www.drlauriemintz.com).

So, despite the chuckle, older adults do have sexual encounters (including intercourse) and rather than being dangerous, it is actually healthy! Research also indicates that it is satisfying. A National Council on Aging survey reports that among people age 60 and over who have regular intercourse, 74 percent of the men and 70 percent of the women find their sex lives more satisfying than when they were in their forties.

Still, there are many things that mid-life and older adults can do to enhance their sexual satisfaction. Joan Price addresses many of these in her book Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex. The subject of painful intercourse, something that many mid-life and older women struggle with, was the focus of one of my prior Psychology Today blogs. The Sinclair Institute sells some excellent educational videos, such as Better Sex for a Lifetime, and a Great Sex over 50 DVD set.

Folk wisdom and scientific research tells us that we often laugh at jokes because of the truth that they convey (i.e., "It's Funny Because It's True"). Still, the joke at the start of this blog may be funny, but it's not true.

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