Many people in the UK are having sex from their teens into their seventies, according to a major lifestyle survey.
Researchers who questioned more than 15,000 adults aged 16 to 74 found that for a large proportion sex is now an almost lifelong activity.
The latest National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal) survey investigated the sex lives of older individuals in their seventies for the first time.
Among other findings:
- One in six pregnancies in the UK are unplanned.
- At least four out of 10 men and women have had a recent sexual problem, but only a 10th of those interviewed were distressed or worried about their sex lives.
- Lack of interest in sex is one of the most commonly reported problems, and one not confined to women. Around 15% of men had experienced loss of libido.
- Since the last Natsal survey in 2000 people have become more accepting of same-sex relationships but less tolerant of cheating spouses.
- One in 10 women and one in 70 men say they have experienced non-consensual sex.
The survey, the third in the series, was conducted between September 2010 and August 2012.
Professor Dame Anne Johnson, from University College London, who led the research published in The Lancet medical journal, said: "By taking a robust scientific approach to assessing the sexual health and lifestyles of people from across Britain in 2010, and in previous Natsal surveys, we now have a much greater understanding of the role that sex plays over the course of a person's lifetime.
"This new information will help to guide the sexual health and education services that people may need at different stages of their lives. Although our results show that we are improving the uptake of some services, there are other areas where people may need more support and advice on health and sexual problems.
"Positive sexual experiences are related to health and well-being throughout the life course, and it's time for this to be given wider recognition by health workers, educators, and society as a whole.
"We need to do more to create an environment in which it is easier for people to discuss sexual well-being as an integral part of the conversation we have with people about our health."
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Besides being fun and pleasurable, sex also offers many health boosts many of us take for granted. Take a look at these surprise benefits of having regular sex...
According to research from Wilkes University, making love twice a week releases an antibody called immunoglobulin A or IgA, which helps protect the body from infections and illnesses. Other research suggests that frequent ejaculations in men reduces the risk of prostate cancer later in life. According to the British Journal of Urology International, men who ejaculate five or more times a week, had a lower risk of prostate cancer.
It doesn't take an expert to connect an energetic love making session with burning calories. Just thirty minutes of action under the sheets burns off around 85 calories. After 42 half-hour sessions, you could burn 3,570 calories, which is the equivalent of 1lb in weight. By having sex three times a week for a year, you could burn off the equivalent of 5lbs a year. Who needs a diet?!
During sex, a hormone called oxytocin is released when the body climaxes, which increases the level of endorphins that acts like natural a pain relief. This causes the body to relax. Many notice their aches and pains, like swelling, inflammation, headaches and menstrual cramps, disappear after sex and gradually improve with regular action.
Women who have regular orgasms are generally more relaxed, less depressed and mentally, physically and emotionally satisfied. Regular sex also helps the body sleep better as it relieves tension plus it helps the brain produce serotonin - the chemical that gives the body a 'mood' lift and is commonly found in antidepressants.
Regular sex releases a surge of plethora chemicals into the body, also known as the 'happy hormones', and they contain testosterone. As we age, the level of testosterone decreases, so the more sex you have, the more your hormone levels increases. This surge of hormone help keep bones and muscles healthy - plus it keeps skin looking plump and youthful. In women, regular sex also helps keep the pelvic floor muscles healthy, which decreases the chances of not-so-sexy incontinence later in life.
Co-author Professor Kaye Wellings, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: "The Natsal studies, along with others, reveal major changes in sexual behaviour over the last century, including earlier onset of sexual activity, increasing numbers of older people who are sexually active, a closing of the gap between men and women, and weakened links between sex and reproduction.
"These changes now need to be reflected in research, clinical practice, and education. We need to start thinking about sex differently - sexual health is not merely the absence of disease, but the ability to have pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free from coercion.
"Improving the quality of people's sexual experiences and their relationships will not just improve the effectiveness of sexual health programmes, but is also something that is important in its own right."
Genevieve Edwards, from the family planning services provider Marie Stopes International, said: "Through our services, we meet thousands of women who haven't had access to effective contraception or been given the skills to enjoy the sex lives they want.
"A key insight from the survey is that people are having sex earlier and having children later, which means that, on average, women in Britain spend about 30 years of their life needing to avert an unplanned pregnancy, yet many are not being informed about or offered the full range of services.
"Long-acting contraceptives, for example, can be extremely effective and convenient but too many are never offered the choice."
Paul Ward, acting chief executive of the Terrence Higgins Trust HIV/Aids charity, said: "With more opportunities to have sex than ever before, and more types of sex in our repertoires, we need to make certain that young people have the facts they need to have safe, fulfilling sex lives.
"Sex education in this country is a relic of the last century. Teaching a teenager to put a condom on a banana is no bad thing, but it won't tell them how to deal with being pressured into sex before they're ready, the do's and don'ts of online friendships, or that what they see in porn is not necessarily what a partner wants in the bedroom.
"A decent programme of sex and relationships education, embedded in the curriculum and fit for the 21st century, can help young people have the best, safest sex at the time that's right for them."