The Sex Benefits of a 50-Year Marriage

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 Bernhard Oppenheim / Getty Images

Here’s a new, surprising, argument for getting wed: More sex, 50 years later. A new study found that committed couples in long-term marriages reported having a renewed spark in their sexual activity after at least half a century of being together, defying the notion that your sex life declines with your age.

“As marriage endures, frequency of sex may not all be downhill,” says study author, Samuel Stroope, a sociology professor at Louisiana State University. “Growing old as a couple – and the experience and knowledge that comes with that – may eventually lead to a slight increase in sexual activity for the few marriages that last more than 50 years.”

Stroope and his colleagues surveyed about 1,600 couples aged 57 to 85 about how often they were having sex. Even though the majority of the couple’s sex lives decreased slowly in the decades after their marriage, the researchers noted a slight up-start around the 50-year mark: on a graph, the relationship looks like a U-shaped curve rather than a steep decline. And this link between frequent sex and marital longevity remained even after they controlled for other factors like health problems, marital quality, and demographic characteristics.

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Stroope’s theory behind this so-called “rebound” is somewhat intuitive: Commitment means investment, and investment means return. Put in the time and reap the rewards. Some people think sex with a spouse can become predictable and lose its novelty over time, says Stroope. “Another line of thinking argues that spouses accumulate experience and knowledge related to each other as they grow old together, including in sexual aspects of their marriage.” For example, knowing your spouse’s intimate sexual preferences — what turns them on — can accumulate. Previous researchers have called this info “partner-specific capital” – an asset that counteracts the effects of predictability in a long-term marriage.

The rebound after 50 years could also be as simple as good old appreciation for each other’s commitment, and a mark of love. A past study shows overall marital quality increased over time for those married longer than 45 years, compared to shorter marriages. And a satisfying sex life in marriage has been shown to provide a lot of health benefits, including a decreased mortality risk (maybe because of better heart health).

Stroope and his colleagues also made another discovery in favor of long-term commitment: older adults in first time marriages reported having more frequent sex (about 20 percent) than remarried older adults. “If first marriages have a greater sense of expected permanency, it may lead to working harder to make more frequent investments in their relationship, including in its sexual aspects,” says Stroope. Hunkering down with one special person for the rest of your life might not seem like a bad idea for your sex life, after all.