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Is There Sex After Retirement?

Hint: All that newfound togetherness may not be great for your relationship


(This article appeared previously on AgnitusLife.com.)

In our book, The Retirement Maze, my co-authors Louis H. Primavera, Rip Roach and I conducted a survey of 1,400 retirees nationwide (I’m a retired pollster), to explore what happens in retirement. We wanted to understand the problems retirees can face as they adjust to this new stage of life and to identify ways they can have a more satisfying retirement if it didn’t turn out as they would have liked.

One of the topics we looked into was the impact of retirement on couples — how all that free time together affects the relationship between partners. And one aspect of the partner relationship is, of course, sex.

The Many Benefits of Sex

Before we get into the sex habits of retirees, we should first mention that sex is good for you. There are countless magazine articles, websites and other information sources that list its psychological and physiological benefits. Here’s a summary of what researchers have discovered:

  • Sex improves self-esteem, relieves stress and improves coping with stressful situations.
  • Sex improves immunity to illnesses. It allows the body to produce antibodies that help protect from colds and other infections. Sexual excitement increases production of the hormone DHEA, which boosts the immune system, repairs tissue, improves cognition and keeps skin healthy.
  • Every 30 minutes of sexual activity burns roughly 85 to 150 calories, resulting in the loss of about a pound for every 42 occasions.
  • Sex can lower diastolic blood pressure and cut in half the risk of suffering a fatal heart attack among men.
  • Sex makes you feel better about your relationship. It helps to produce oxytocin, the love hormone, which enhances trust, nurturance and bonding between partners. Oxytocin also promotes better sleep, which is linked to better health and weight loss.
  • Endorphins are also released during sex; they have a close resemblance to morphine, helping to reduce physical pain.
  • Sex can lower the odds of prostate cancer among men. Men who have had frequent ejaculations while in their 20s (an average of five or more per week) were less likely to have prostate cancer when they got older. For women, those who do pelvic muscle exercises (Kegels) during sex have more pleasure, but also have lower odds of suffering incontinence (loss of bladder control) later on.
  • Sex increases production of testosterone and estrogen. Testosterone helps fortify bones and muscles and keeps your heart in good working condition. In women, estrogen also protects against heart disease.

A Slowdown in Sex Frequency for Retirees

Back to retirees. One might assume that, with all the free time and the lack of job-related pressures, the sex lives of retirees would blossom, if for no other reason than to add a diversion on days when there’s nothing else to do.

But we actually found the reverse — retirees have sex less often in comparison to their counterparts in the workforce. The drop off is pretty substantial; not only does the frequency of sex decline, but retirees rate their sex lives less favorably overall and feel it has suffered since they retired.

Here are some of the statistics from our poll:

  • Only about 75 percent of those retired report they have sex regularly (at least once per month) versus 90 percent among those of the same age who are employed. The average frequency is about five times per month among retirees as compared to roughly nine times for those still working.
  • This is not solely a matter of being “older people,” but seems to be a function of retirement itself. Among those 55 to 64, sexual intimacy occurs roughly six times per month among retirees, versus about 10 times among those still working; for people 65 and older, it’s roughly four times per month for retirees vs. about six times among employees.
  • Only 39 percent of retirees rate their sex life as excellent or very good versus 50 percent of those still in the workforce. In fact, about three in 10 retirees say their sex lives got worse after they retired; only 13 percent say they got better.

How to Explain the Trend

We’re not entirely sure why there’s such a downturn. Retirees on the whole are just as happily married as people who are still working, we found. But if we are to hazard a guess, there could be a few factors:

  • Possibly it’s the increased amount of time couples spend together in retirement. This would be in the sense that too much familiarity breeds contempt, or at least disinterest. Or being in such close quarters provides more opportunities for skirmishes, which can put emotional distance between partners.
  • Maybe it has to do with self-esteem. Retirees rate themselves much lower than those who are working, when it comes to self-esteem, and a weakened self-confidence could inhibit sexual desire and possibly competence.
  • Retirees tend to feel less energetic. The retirement lifestyle can be demotivating and produce laziness, and laziness begets more laziness. So with a lower overall drive, many retirees have a reduced inclination to have or want sex.

Whatever the reasons, this is not an ideal situation. Putting forth effort to maintain an active sex life should be higher on a retiree’s agenda, if for no other reason than its health benefits. This is one thing that’s just as easily done than said, after all.

‘Just Do It’

A good sex life will make you feel more connected with your partner, feel better emotionally and psychologically and improve your motivation to do other things. This is a health and exercise regimen that you can devote your time and effort to without much chance of getting injured.

Those who just cannot find their way to a more interesting and satisfying sex life in retirement might want to consider a visit to a sex therapist. The results of doing so might be surprisingly helpful. But if not, the experience will likely give you and your partner a good laugh.

Either way, to borrow a line from Nike — just do it.

By Rob Pascale
Rob Pascale is a research psychologist and founder of Marketing Analysts (MAi), a consumer research firm. He retired from full-time responsibilities at MAi in 2005 at 51 to focus his attention on social and psychological research issues. He is a co-founder of the Agnituslife.com site for people over 60. In his book,The Retirement Maze, Pascale combined his first-hand experiences with his expertise as researcher to uncover the difficulties people can face as they make the transition into retirement. Other books by Pascale include Taking Charge of Your Emotions: A Guide to Better Psychological Health and Well-Being and Making Marriage Work.

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