CHICAGO — The happiest men and women in America are married couples who have sex frequently after age 60, says a report by the Rev. Andrew M. Greeley, the sociologist-priest-novelist.
Thirty-seven percent of married people over 60 make love once a week or more, and 16% make love several times a week, Greeley noted in his report, based on two previous surveys involving a total of 5,738 subjects.
Nine out of 10 of those over 60 who made love at least once a week said their spouses were "very attractive physically," said the report.
Men and women who engage in frequent sex after 60 report the happiest marriages and are more likely to report that they are living exciting lives, the report said.
"Their sex may be better because their lives are more satisfying, or the other way around," Greeley said. "I'm not trying to explain the flow. I'm just trying to show what's going on."
Greeley is a sociology professor at the University of Chicago and the University of Arizona, and a research associate at the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center. He has written more than 100 books, including 24 novels.
Part of the data for his latest report came from the center's nationwide surveys of 4,424 people conducted from 1988 to 1991. The other part came from Gallup polls of 1,314 respondents analyzed previously in a 1990 study by Greeley.
He said he was prompted to write a new paper on the topic by two events. The first was the cancellation of television series such as "Matlock," "The Golden Girls" and "In the Heat of the Night," which portray and appeal to older people.
The second was a recent Kirkus book review that ridiculed Greeley's 24th novel, "The Wages of Sin," for offering "safe sex for seniors" in the portrayal of passion between a man in his 50s and a woman in her late 40s.
"The image of passionate love between older people as grotesque is dominant in American society," Greeley said in his report.
"It may be that the last great American taboo is passion among the elderly," he wrote, adding that virtually no sociological literature exists about sexual passion between older men and women.
Domeena C. Renshaw, co-chair of psychiatry and founder of the sexual dysfunction program at Loyola University Medical Center, said it has been known for years that many older people are sexually active.
For example, she said, a small inquiry seeking personal accounts on the topic that was placed in Consumer Reports magazine almost a decade ago generated "thousands" of responses. They led to "Love, Sex and Aging: A Consumers Union Report" by Edward M. Brecher in 1984.
Greeley said, however, that even though some reports have indicated that many older people have sex, little has been reported previously to indicate that those who are sexually active live more satisfying, rewarding lives.