AARP Finds Down Economy Hits The Bedroom

It's not easy making ends meet during these hard financial times. And as it turns out, a bad economy even impacts the sex drive. AARP asked a sampling of Americans age 45 and over what they do behind closed doors, and as guest host Allison Keyes found out, they're not doing "it" as often as they used to. Keyes speaks with Pepper Schwartz, AARP's "love and relationships ambassador," a sexologist from the University of Washington, about her survey.

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(Soundbite of music)

ALLISON KEYES, host:

You know how TELL ME MORE follows the economy, the rise and fall and rise again of the stock market, peaking unemployment rates? Turns out we missed an angle. An AARP survey of Americans over the age of 45 shows the slow economy has slowed America's sex drive - at least for that age range.

Let's turn to AARP's romance and relationships ambassador to find out about this apparent trend. And yes, AARP does have a romance and relationships ambassador. Pepper Schwartz is also a real sexologist and professor of sociology at the University of Washington. She's on the line from Seattle.

Thanks for joining us.

Dr. PEPPER SCHWARTZ (Sociologist and sexologist, University of Washington, Seattle): Oh, its my pleasure. I really love NPR.

KEYES: It seems like people feeling the economic pinch would be taking comfort in the arms of their loved ones. No?

Dr. SCHWARTZ: Well, that's what you'd hope and I'm sure that's true for some people. But I think depression, feeling bad, worried, anxiety and stress, those lower your libido. And even though maybe you want comfort, it might turn into hugs rather than anything more advanced.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: What's the headline from your survey, generally speaking, about the love lives of Americans over the age of 45?

Dr. SCHWARTZ: Well, a good headline is that at every age level, people believe that sexuality is part of their life and then adds to quality of their life. It's important to them. I think the other good headline is that we had a very large Hispanic sample and they seem to really have a special relationship to their sexuality. They had more of it, were happier about it, felt their partners were more sensitive and more romantic than the whole rest of the sample. And even when their health was actually objectively rated lower than the rest of the sample, they seemed to be able to handle a lot of things and still be closer to each other. So, I thought maybe they might have some guidelines for us that we can learn.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: So that's our good headlines. What's our bad ones?

Dr. SCHWARTZ: Our bad headline is that when we look at our single people over 45, and remember this went way into the '90s, we did the whole life cycle; they're having sex, it's important to them, but they are not using condoms. Eighty-eight percent of the men and two-thirds of the women are not using condoms.

KEYES: Really? Eighty-eight percent?

Dr. SCHWARTZ: Yeah. So that's really shocking and worrisome. It's true that they're probably calculating that they have a much lower chance of getting an STI. And, of course, most of them can't, you know, dont have to worry about pregnancy anymore, but the fact is there still are sexually transmitted infections in that group and even if they're at lower level, they're not negligible.

KEYES: So are people over 45 having a lot of sex - twice a week, once or twice a month, once a year?

Dr. SCHWARTZ: Well, it depends on the age group. I mean it goes down as you get older, but your '40s, '50s and '60s, once a week is really average. Interestingly enough, if youre in those age groups and youre single youre having more sex, maybe once or twice a week, than if youre married. I guess people put their sex life on automatic pilot a little bit more when they're married.

KEYES: So yay for the single people.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. SCHWARTZ: Yeah, and against the image of, you know, there you are older your emotional or romantic life is over, it isn't. The big thing is having a partner - huge difference between people who have a partner and people who dont. But I think that sexuality is part of who we are. And I particularly think this baby boomer generation, which is in the lower part of our age group - 45 to 65 - they were in the sexual revolution long ago and I dont think they're letting go of it. There is a difference between men and women. Men do think about it more, do it more, rate it more highly.

KEYES: I am shocked to hear that. Shocked.

Dr. SCHWARTZ: I am too. Isn't it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. SCHWARTZ: But, you know, it's interesting that there's about a quarter of the women who were extremely satisfied with their sex life and while men's sexual satisfaction goes, so this takes a step-wise down as they get older, that quarter of women or so who really thinks sex is great never changes, into their '70s and on. So it just shows me that we have some work to do in terms of people creating a sexual life that they feel extremely satisfied by, but the ones who do own, keep it forever.

KEYES: Pepper, you were saying earlier, that Hispanics are having well, more and happier sex. Was there any indication on why that is and what notes we should be taking?

Dr. SCHWARTZ: I think it must be cultural. I mean they're not physiologically different...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. SCHWARTZ: ...from the rest of us. And I think one of the places I looked is we asked, you know, how many romantic things does your partner do? Do you feel you can talk to them? Do they give you presents? Do you have date nights? Do you think they're sensitive? And their numbers were much higher on that. And so I think that's a lot where it comes from. It's not just - I think its the sexuality and romance, a part of a feedback loop, and if youre more romantic then, you know, one thing kind of stokes the other.

KEYES: I've got to ask, really briefly, what about folks in their '70s or '80s? Is there any joy there?

Dr. SCHWARTZ: Yes. You know, now we have 70 and above in our studies so it goes '70s, '80s '90s. But yes, I'd say about a quarter of the men and a quarter of the women in their '70s and on say that they're extremely satisfied with their sex life. And anybody in that group who has a partner is usually pretty happy with it. The big breakdown as you get older, is whether or not you have a partner. And one of the good things I think is that because of online dating and because that we take different permissions about those ages; that I think as this younger group ages more and more of them will re-partner when they lose a partner through divorce or death.

My favorite example is a friend of mine who has just found the love of her life and she's 81 and he's a few years older than her. So, I think its a question of how important you make this in your life and what priority you put to it.

KEYES: Sounds like we have things to look forward to.

Pepper Schwartz is professor of sociology at the University of Washington and a psychologist working with the AARP.

Thanks so much for joining us.

Dr. SCHWARTZ: Thank you.

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