A large survey released Wednesday, funded by the National Institutes of Health, queried adults ages 57 to 85 about their sexual problems. Most media reports, such as this one from HealthDay, have focused on the finding that a healthy sex life can extend well into the 80s, emphasizing the importance of overall health to sexual health. I decided to look more closely at how men responded to the survey. What I found ranged from the predictable to the intriguing to the outright surprising. Here are three of each.
1. Getting erections and having orgasms become more difficult with age. Men ages 75 to 85 were 2.4 times as likely to report being unable to orgasm and 1.9 times as likely to report difficulty maintaining an erection as men ages 57 to 64. The good news: The older men didn't report significantly less interest in sex or pleasure during sex.
2. If you're not having much sex, chances are the sex you are having isn't very good. Men who have sex no more than once a month were 2.4 times as likely to report the sex was not pleasurable. They also reported more performance anxiety and erectile problems, and they were 4.3 times as likely to report lack of interest in sex. Randy Fagin, a urologist at the Prostate Center of Austin who works with men trying to recover sexual function after prostate surgery, recently told me there's indeed truth to the notion that men need to "use it or lose it."
3. The more satisfied a man is with a relationship, the better the sex tends to be. Men who reported being satisfied with their relationship were half as likely to report sex that wasn't pleasurable. I'd file that one under "duh."
1. Married men have more bad sex than their unmarried counterparts. Lack of pleasure during sex was reported by significantly fewer widowed or never married men. These men were one tenth as likely to report sex as not pleasurable as were men in married or cohabiting couples. Also intriguing: Divorced or separated men were twice as likely to report performance anxiety as married or cohabiting couples.
2. Getting an STD can have long-term consequences. Men who had ever had an STD were 5.4 times as likely to report sex that wasn't pleasurable during their later years. The authors didn't specify which STDs were most associated with problems, but treatment for urinary tract syndrome was associated with a higher risk of having erectile problems.
3. A man's mental health is key. Men who were depressed were 1.5 times as likely to report the inability to orgasm and 1.5 times as likely to have difficulty maintaining an erection. Cause or effect? The study didn't reach a conclusion. But delayed ejaculation is a side effect of many antidepressants. And erectile dysfunction could plausibly dampen a guy's mood.
1. Black men report far more sexual problems than white. Black men were more than twice as likely to report lack of sexual interest, almost three times as likely to report premature ejaculation, and almost four times as likely to report lack of sexual pleasure as white men. The authors of the study make no attempt to explain why, nor will I.
2. More education means more pleasurable sex. Men with college diplomas were far more likely to report pleasurable sex and ease reaching orgasm than those who hadn't finished high school. Is this a function of education leading to higher income and more leisure time? One twist: Attending some college was associated with about twice the risk of erectile dysfunction of men who never finished high school.
3. Men who had ever had same-sex sexual experiences reported dampened desire. Men who had ever engaged in same-sex activity were five times as likely to report lack of interest in sex. I would have thought that being gay or "bi-curious" would only enliven a man's sex life. Could that stat reflect a self-repressive tendency among men who are drawn to other men but also believe homosexuality to be immoral?