A FIRST-OF-ITS-KIND KINSEY INSTITUTE SURVEY EXAMINES OLDER WOMEN’S FANTASIES, MASTURBATION HABITS, LIBIDO, AND MORE.

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We burned our bras. We test-drove the Pill. We practically invented the zipless f*ck (hands up if you read Fear of Flying multiple times). So even though TV and movies and polite society writ large would have us believe senior sex is nonexistent (or worse, gross, unless you’re Diane Keaton’s doppelgänger or one of Gerry Turner’s bevy of babes), you’re probably not surprised to learn 74 percent of us say that these days, our orgasms are just as good or better than ever. Or that two-thirds believe that being sexually active has mind-and-body benefits for our demographic. But what you might not expect is that sex can get even hotter in your golden years, thanks in large part to an expanded definition of what it means to get your groove on.

That’s the scoop from a new Kinsey Institute survey, executed in exclusive partnership with Cosmopolitan, in which a national demographically representative sample of 3,001 women in the U.S. ages 60 and up come clean about everything from their desire for sex to their deepest fantasies. While it’s not all roses (57 percent say their libido is on the decline—but more on that below), the results roundly refute the popular notion that sex, er, dries up the second you become eligible for Social Security.

“My oldest regularly sexually active patients are in their 80s,” says ob-gyn Mary Jane Minkin, MD, aka Madame Ovary, codirector of Yale’s Sexuality, Intimacy, and Menopause Program for cancer survivors at Smilow Cancer Hospital. And while the New York–based Lanna Cheuck, DO, (aka @DoctorLanna), a urologic surgeon who specializes in sexual health, says most of the women who come in to see her for sexual issues are in their 60s, she also has “a handful of patients in their 90s.”

What’s more, fewer women over 60 seem to be settling for a stalled love life. Dr. Minkin says at least once a day, a 60+ patient comes to her seeking help for a flagging libido, while many of Dr. Cheuck’s older patients are clamoring for treatments like the O-Shot, designed to boost down-there sensitivity and turbocharge orgasms. “Women are more educated about sexual treatments than they have ever been because of social media and easy access to the internet,” says Dr. Cheuck. And they’re tapping those resources to squeeze maximum pleasure from their intimate encounters.

So just how are the OG sexual revolutionaries faring since they first burned (okay, make that tossed) their bras nearly 60 years ago? Turns out, those early seeds of liberation have blossomed into new and meaningful ways of connecting between the sheets. With the Kinsey Institute x Cosmo survey results below, we hope to establish new conventional wisdom about what sex after 60 is really like, so go ahead and dive in with an open mind—but fair warning, the takeaways might make you want to turn up the heat in your bedroom (or couch…or car…or…?).

We Asked:

For those who have had partnered sex in the last year, how often are you doing it?

9 MILLION OF US DID THE DEED LAST YEAR

Just how much action is the 60+ set getting? According to our survey, 21 percent reported having partnered sex in the last year. Sound a tad low? Consider this: Per the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2022, there were roughly 43 million women 60 years and older in the United States, so 21 percent amounts to about 9 million 60+ women—that’s more than the population of New York City knocking boots at least once in the past 365 days.

Okay, not too shabby, but why aren’t more of us getting it on? For straight ladies, there’s a guy shortage due to—yes, unfortunately—life expectancy trends: In 2020, there were 124 American women ages 65 and up for every 100 men. By age 85, the ratio increased: 176 women for every 100 men. Factor in divorce, and it’s easy to see how the simple law of supply and demand is taking a toll on our sex lives.

Physical ability certainly plays a role among this age group too. “It’s a myth that people who have the most sex live longer,” says Lauren Streicher, MD, clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, host of Dr. Streicher’s Inside Information: The Menopause Podcast, and one of the designers of the Kinsey Institute survey. “People who are healthy tend to have sex—health is the biggest predictor of sexual activity.”

Not surprisingly, those in a committed relationship are getting a little more lovin’: Almost one-third of us in partnerships report having sex in the past year compared with 12 percent of us unpartnered folk. And the younger we are, the friskier we tend to be: According to our survey, those ages 60 to 69 were significantly more likely to report having partnered sex in the last year than those ages 70 and up. These romantic romps aren’t one-offs either: 68 percent of us who report getting busy with someone in the bedroom are doing it anywhere from more than once a day to a few times a month!

“During sex, we do a lot of deep gazing. It’s incredibly intimate.”

9 MILLION OF US DID THE DEED LAST YEAR

“What we’ve seen in those who remain sexually active after 60 is that they tend to report sex gets better with age,” says Rachel Zar, PhD, a sex therapist and licensed marriage and family therapist in Chicago. And the survey results prop that up: 60 percent of us who are having sex say that, yes, we enjoy our hanky-panky just as much—or more!—as we did 10 years ago. “A lot of the reasons are increased confidence about communicating and increased knowledge and awareness about themselves.”

That often includes embracing the fact that “sex doesn’t mean penile penetration,” points out Dr. Streicher. “As time goes on, people are redefining sexuality in terms of what they do and who they do it with. For a lot of couples, they acknowledge the fact that the male partner can’t maintain an erection and she may have vaginal dryness, so they do mutual masturbation, oral sex, and manual stimulation.”

That may explain why 60 percent of survey respondents agree that intercourse is not necessary for a satisfying sexual experience—it’s a rewriting of the sexual script, a term researchers use to refer to traditional guidelines like the penis-in-vagina model of sex, explains Kinsey Institute senior scientist Cynthia Graham, PhD, editor of the Journal of Sex Research. “Older adults are expanding their sexual repertoire; they are more likely to be saying they engage in cuddling, touching, and kissing and don’t feel intimacy is impaired even though intercourse may not be happening as often or at all.”

Moving away from intercourse as our bodies become “less reliable” also forces us to slow down and take what Zar calls an “inside-out” perspective on sex. “Instead of sort of looking down at yourself from the ceiling, putting yourself in your partner’s head and wondering, ‘Do I look sexy? Am I performing properly?’ you’re asking yourself things like, ‘What does this feel like in my body right now?’”

Retired veterinary technician Carol, 69, and Kris, 53, her girlfriend of two years, have discovered the sublime pleasure of simply being present: “During sex, we do a lot of deep gazing,” says Carol. “It’s incredibly intimate. My mind doesn’t wander beyond what’s happening in the moment.”

“We began setting aside special time to make love—take showers, come together in the afternoon and not at night after a meal when we’re tired.”

For 83-year-old Gail Hovey, author of She Said God Blessed Us, a memoir about surviving teenage sexual abuse, finding workarounds for physical limitations was a turning point. When she and her girlfriend of 33 years realized their lovemaking “wasn’t working as well” as it used to, Gail says, “we decided to make changes. We both still wanted to be involved with each other sexually, but we had to figure out how to do it since we’re not as limber as we used to be. We began setting aside special time to make love—take showers, come together in the afternoon and not at night after a meal when we’re tired. This has proved to be a wonderful practice, full of tenderness, intimacy, and joy.”

EXPLOSIVE ORGASMS ARE STILL IN THE PICTURE

It’s true: The older we get, the harder it can be to cum. The reason may be in part due to neurological and vascular changes that occur in the clitoris over time, explains Dr. Streicher. Yet nearly three-quarters of survey respondents report that age has had no negative impact on the quality of their orgasms—in fact, 20 percent report orgasms that are more satisfying than ever before. Better yet, 57 percent say they reach climax with their partners always or almost always, suggesting we’ve gotten damn good at letting our lovers know what works.

As Foreplay Radio cohost and sex therapist Laurie Watson, PhD, says, “While hormones play a role in orgasm, nerve conduction is still intact. If women are patient with a slower response time and enjoy the freedom to really ask for what they need both emotionally and physically, orgasm can be within reach.”

In fact, according to Watson, one of her clients says that since turning 60, her orgasms belong in the “I’ll have what she’s having” Hall of Fame—but unlike Sally’s, there’s nothing fake about them: “I know my hormones have slowed down, but my orgasms are twice as powerful as in my 40s. I think it’s because I feel safe with my husband, and I’m not self-conscious anymore. I shake and cry and scream!”

Georgette, a 60-year-old real estate entrepreneur who’s about to marry her partner of 10 years, says, “I get orgasms the same way I did my whole life—I tell my partner to stimulate my nipples—that’s what makes me have an orgasm, and they come as easily and are as intense as they always were.”

For sex that hits the spot, divorced mammography specialist Angie, 63, relies on her booty call of roughly 30 years. “We’ve been with each other a long time. We know what we like. When he eats me, he gets his thumb and sticks it up my butthole, and that’s intense!” She’s also not shy about saying what she needs: “When I was younger, I was, but now I don’t give a sh*t. Please me—that’s it!” That means saying things like “harder” or “just relax a few seconds.” “If I’m building myself for the big O, I do stuff like that,”

“I know my hormones have slowed down, but my orgasms are twice as powerful as in my 40s.”

BUT ORGASMS AREN’T EVERYTHING

For 83-year-old Gail Hovey, author of She Said God Blessed Us, a memoir about surviving teenage sexual abuse, finding workarounds for physical limitations was a turning point. When she and her girlfriend of 33 years realized their lovemaking “wasn’t working as well” as it used to, Gail says, “we decided to make changes. We both still wanted to be involved with each other sexually, but we had to figure out how to do it since we’re not as limber as we used to be. We began setting aside special time to make love—take showers, come together in the afternoon and not at night after a meal when we’re tired. This has proved to be a wonderful practice, full of tenderness, intimacy, and joy.”

Zar recommends asking yourself what non-orgasm pleasure could look like for you. “Maybe the peak is a physical sensation without the ‘whoosh.’ Maybe it’s just about luxuriating in the connection with your partner. It’s just a way of framing so that you leave a sexual experience that was wonderful feeling like, ‘I’m satisfied and I’m ready to stop.’”

Carol gets it. “I have noted that it seems like achieving orgasm doesn’t come as easily,” she says. “I’m this person who doesn’t worry about that.” So when she feels like a climax isn’t in the cards, “I sometimes stop and say to Kris, ‘Is it okay if we take a break for now and do other foreplay?’”

One of the upsides of straying from a strict focus on reaching orgasm is discovering new routes to pleasure. “Good sex doesn’t even have to include our genitals,” asserts Zar. “Opening ourselves up to all the erogenous zones in our body leads to all the things that amazing sex can be. Folks who report they have the best experience after 60 dedicate time and energy to that creative exploration.”

A LOT OF US STILL GOTTA HAVE IT

Turn out the lights on our sex lives? Not a chance—nearly 40 percent of us say we’re in the mood as often as we were 10 years ago. And another 7 percent admit to being more horny than before. As 75-year-old Sandra Mason, one of the ‘Golden Bachelor’ contestants who vied for Gerry Turner’s affections, put it on the show, “At my age, I’m energetic. I’m still connected with my body and I want intimacy with a guy.”

“You feel better after you have sex—it’s better than exercise, it’s more fun, and it’s nice to be close to another person.”

Since being widowed seven years ago, nonprofit exec Amy, 63, says she’s not only having more sex than ever, but it’s also been “WOW! I have more dates and am doing more things now. When I was younger, I was more prudish and had the six-date rule—now it’s, like, two dates!” After enduring a three-year dry spell toward the end of her marriage and following the death of her husband, Amy says, “I’m in a good place. I realize sex is healthy. You feel better after you have sex—it’s better than exercise, it’s more fun, and it’s nice to be close to another person.”

Although Georgette’s sex drive has diminished, she still feels frisky once or twice a week. One issue for her: “As the guy gets older, you have to do more work to get them hard; it’s a whole big effort and sometimes I don’t feel like it. If I had a new young partner, I could probably do it more often!”

A new—and younger—partner has made all the difference for Serena*, 76. A few years after losing her husband, she met a man 17 years her junior through Facebook. Two-and-a-half years later, she says she’s having the best sex of her life. But she was apprehensive at first: “I was worried—my husband had been sick, so I hadn’t had a man for a long time. But he prepared me for two days—stroking me, caressing me, kissing me. He made me breakfast and told me I look amazing.”

As for the 57 percent of respondents who said that their interest or desire for sex is lower than it was 10 years ago, they’re not alone. “Lack of desire is the most common sexual issue we take care of,” says Dr. Minkin. “Mostly the complaint is among partnered women. Often the partner wants to have sex more often than my patient does.”

Sussing out the root cause can lead to solutions: Is vaginal dryness making sex painful? Is a medication suppressing libido or making it hard to cum? Are there partner issues? Or maybe pain or another health condition is in the way. For example, for women having sex after a heart attack, Dr. Streicher offers, “how do you come if you’re worried about going?”

Or maybe you’re just not opening yourself up to “responsive desire,” says Zar. Over time, spontaneous desire (the “I want to have sex now” feeling) generally gives way to responsive desire, where if you enjoy some form of sexual stimuli (a back rub, a fantasy, an erotic conversation) enough, you’ll become aroused. “So when women say, ‘I have a lower libido. I don’t want sex as frequently,’ often what they’re really saying is ‘I don’t have as much spontaneous desire.’  But are they opening themselves up to responsive desire?”

In any case, Dr. Streicher insists that women facing such issues should not give up: “The number one thing is if you are having problems with sexuality—whether pain or inability to have an orgasm—there are solutions!” However, she adds, it’s critical to see a physician with an expertise in menopause: “It’s not that other doctors are embarrassed to talk about sex; it’s that they don’t have the answers.”

52% of Respondents Are Masturbating at Minimum Once a Year and 14% of You Are Self-Pleasuring a Few Times a Month

SOLO PLAY IS POPULAR

Not only does masturbation have health benefits, but it’s also an opportunity to create a really strong connection with yourself, notes Zar—and according to the survey, more than half of us go at it anywhere from once a day to once a year. (Please note: 1 percent of respondents reported masturbating once or more a day!) And 46 percent agree it’s a good way to stay sexually active.

To take self-pleasure to the next level, Zar suggests getting out a hand mirror and taking a good look at your vulva: “Get some lube on your fingers and explore. Ask yourself, ‘What happens when I touch that part?’  If you can meet your body with curiosity and compassion, you can figure out what your body actually likes.” (For those seeking specific how-tos, she recommends OMGYES: “Real women describe the techniques and motions that work for them,” she says. “It’s a beautiful acknowledgment of how every single body is different.”)

SEX TOYS ARE VERY MUCH IN DEMAND

When it comes to masturbation, more than half of us have gotten the memo: A little assistance (electronic or otherwise) can make all the difference. “I refer to a vibrator as a tool rather than a toy,” says Dr. Streicher. 

“Even if somebody was highly orgasmic, they may find that having an orgasm is more difficult postmenopause, so they may need to use a vibrator,” explains Dr. Streicher, who observes that “people are more open to talking about them, and they’re more easily attainable. Now you can walk into a corner drugstore and get one. The increased access increases people’s comfort level.” And the vast variety means you’re more likely to find one that satisfies. Says Zar, “If your body needs more intensity, get a more intense vibrator.”

We Asked:

What do you fantasize about?

SCROLL THROUGH THE CAROUSEL OF CARDS

“Maybe it’s forbidden, and that makes it attractive to me.”

OUR FANTASIES ARE RATED R FOR ROMANCE

BDSM? Orgies? The stranger in the elevator? Uh…not so much! Turns out, the most popular fantasy among survey respondents (59 percent of them, in fact) features passion, romance, or intimacy. Kinsey Institute research fellow Justin J. Lehmiller, PhD, author of Tell Me What You Want, has a theory as to why the numbers shake out this way: “Perhaps older women have already checked everything off of the list. Or perhaps there isn’t as much need for novelty in older age and that other things become more gratifying.”

When Gail and her partner first hooked up 33 years ago, they were living in Hawaii, where, says Gail, “there are volcanoes and they erupt, and we were there in that physical place, and I would fantasize about that during sex, and it was pretty powerful.” These days? “It’s more about remembering a special time.”

Carol is on the same page: “I don’t have wild fantasies. My fantasies are usually around thinking of Kris and seeing her in my mind’s image. I have fantasies of standing at the kitchen sink and her walking up behind me and touching me.”

For Georgette, it’s getting off on the fact that her partner looks a lot older than she does, even though they’re roughly the same age. “It makes me feel so much younger and more flexible. When I look down at him, it makes me want to have more sex. It’s like I’m having sex with an older guy. Maybe it’s forbidden, and that makes it attractive to me.”

The bottom line, says Zar, is that getting in touch with your erotic imagination can be a game changer. “Fantasy and imagination and eroticism facilitate arousal and orgasm and pleasure.”  She encourages those looking for inspiration to explore the world of erotica. “It’s expanded exponentially, where there are options not from the male lens—they are feminist and ethical and include real bodies and folks of all ages,” says Zar. “There’s also a big boom of audio erotica, like the Dipsea app. A lot of older women prefer that because it’s not in your face. It lets you close your eyes and be in your body.”

WE'RE OPEN TO TRYING NEW THINGS

What’s that tired adage about teaching an old dog new tricks? In reality, one-third of survey respondents believe that switching things up in the bedroom can have a big, passionate payoff—especially when changing bodies make things like penetration and orgasm more elusive. The bottom line: Those of us daring to reimagine sex after 60 are having a blast. We’re enjoying levels of intimacy that transcend the playbook of our youth (goodbye, mad rush to orgasm) and redefining sexual satisfaction in expansive and inclusive ways. If you have been interested in mixing up your routine but feel awkward springing a new position, toy, or kinky request on your partner—especially one you’ve been with for decades—take a cue from Zar, who recommends framing it as an invitation. Her suggestion: “Hey, I saw this thing in Cosmo yesterday, and it got me thinking…”

“When I was younger, I didn’t say what I need, but now I don’t give a sh*t. Please me—that’s it!”

*Name has been changed.

Getty Images (18). Women: Ruben Chamorro (10). Legs in tights and tamarillo fruit: Stocksy.

Black dress look: Skims dress; personal jewelry. Black pajama set look: Eberjey pajamas; BEN AMUN earrings; Pandora ring. Brown pajama set look: Bare Necessities pajamas; Giuseppe Zanotti heels. Red slip dress look: Torrid slip dress; personal jewelry. Brown pajama and robe set look: Victoria’s Secret pajamas; personal jewelry. Black bodysuit look: Commando bodysuit. Pink pajama set look: Olivia von Halle set; Pandora earrings. Bronze set look: AG Jeans silk set; Completedworks earcuff. Pink pajama and robe set look: Eberjey pajamas; Alexis Bittar earrings; Lady Grey globe ring; Jennifer Fisher chain ring.

Maria Lissandrello

Maria Lissandrello is SVP/chief content officer of Health Monitor, a patient-engagement platform that educates and empowers readers to take charge of their health journeys. She has also written numerous health, lifestyle, and nutrition pieces for outlets such as CreakyJoints.org, Vegetarian Times and First for Women. Previously, Maria was executive editor of First for Women and Woman’s World, where she learned everything from how to make a cake using Twinkies to how to fold a fitted sheet.

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