Study Shows Gay Elders Still Have Plenty of Sex
Kilian Melloy READ TIME: 4 MIN.
If the ticking of the biological clock is making you anxious, take heart: A new study shows that gay and bi men stay sexually vibrant well into their 70s, if not beyond.
The news comes from a surprising source. The study was intended to shed light on the spread of Mpox, which was conducted by researchers under the auspices of a British university.
"The team wanted to better understand how sexual behaviors change with age, so that mathematical models of sexually transmitted infections can be made more accurate," explains text on the University of East Anglia website.
"Key findings included in the paper, published today in the journal PLOS ONE, show that many gay and bisexual men over age 70 continue to have a sex life with multiple partners, while straight women become less sexually active after age 50," the site went on to add.
"Before this study, many models about sexually transmitted diseases assumed that everyone over a certain age – say 40 or 65 – stopped being sexually active, or at least stopped having multiple partners," said Dr. Juli Brainard of the university's Norwich Medical School.
"Or there might be an assumption that young people have the most sex," Dr. Brainard added. "But the answer is more nuanced, and it partly depends on people's sexuality."
The study solicited information about the sex lives of more than 5,000 British people, with about a fifth of the total representing men who have sex with men (MSM), the website said.
Their "answers were divided into the three largest groups that each had more than a thousand responses: women who have sex with men, men who have sex with women, and men who have sex with men," the site said.
So, who are the gold medalists – and the distance runners – in the sexual Olympics?
The results were illuminating. Responses from women over 50 reflected a sharp dropoff in sexual activity. More than three-quarters of women aged 70 years and older "who identified as heterosexual or had any male partners in last 3 months, had had no male partners in the last three weeks," the site noted.
Similarly, heterosexual men reported a slowing of sexual activity as they aged – though overall, men remained more sexually active even as they aged than heterosexual women did. "50 per cent of men age 70+ who were heterosexual or had had sex with any women in last three months, didn't have a female partner in the most recent three weeks," the site summarized, "compared to just 44 per cent of men having heterosexual sex who had no recent female partners when age under 70."
That left gay and bi guys staying more sexually active longer than people in the other two groups – and also, the study noted, having more sexual partners, in what the study called "concurrency."
"17 per cent of [MSM over the age of 70] reported more than one recent partner in the most recent three weeks," the study's summary on the university's website said. By contrast, "two per cent of straight people over 70 reported multiple partners."
"With increased age, a constant decline in partner count was evident in heterosexual partnership types, but a quadratic (peaking in middle age) relationship describes MSM partner count patterns better," the study, titled "The relationship between age and sex partner counts during the mpox outbreak in the UK, 2022," noted in the "Discussion" section.
"These survey data also suggest that MSM were much more likely to have higher concurrency at all ages, and to be sexually active at age 65+ than WSM or MSW," the study said. "Peak likelihood of concurrency tended to be about age 35–54 for MSM when taking into account sampling strategies and different models."
Though the information was gathered in a context of investigating the spread of a disease passed through contact – Mpox being highly contagious skin-to-skin or even through sharing towels or bed linens – the results offered new insight into human sexuality overall, challenging the notion that "young people are necessarily most at risk or that having multiple partners just stops happening at a strict age threshold," Dr. Brainard said.
But the study was cast primarily as beneficial to understanding how to better combat the spread of any sort of sexually transmitted infection.
"The information about age profiles and sexual habits is useful because it helps to tailor safe sex messages at the right demographics and using media channels that best reaches these subgroups," Dr. Brainard said.
Still, the data are notably incomplete and the way it was sourced is subject to question.
"This study underscores the importance of considering how data were collected," Kings College London Research Fellow Dr Louise Smith said. "For instance, we can't conclude from this survey that MSM who use social media are particularly likely to have concurrent partners. But it may be that the algorithms that Facebook or Instagram use to identify MSMs are also very good at finding that subset of people."
Moreover, "Because we didn't recruit very many lesbian and bisexual women, or members of the trans community, our statistical analyses would have been less reliable for these groups," Dr. Smith acknowledged.
Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.