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Secular trends in self reported sexual activity and satisfaction in Swedish 70 year olds: cross sectional survey of four populations, 1971-2001

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 08 July 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a279
  1. Nils Beckman, PhD student1,
  2. Margda Waern, senior lecturer1,
  3. Deborah Gustafson, senior lecturer1,
  4. Ingmar Skoog, professor1
  1. 1Neuropsychiatric Epidemiology Unit, Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Sahlgrenska Academy at Gothenburg University, Gothenburg, Sweden
  1. Correspondence to: N Beckman, Neuropsychiatric Epidemiology Unit, Neuropsykiatri SU/Mölndal, Wallinsgatan 6, SE 431 41 Mölndal nils.beckman{at}
  • Accepted 12 May 2008


Objective To study secular trends in self reported sexual behaviour among 70 year olds.

Design Cross sectional survey.

Settings Four samples representative of the general population in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Participants 1506 adults (946 women, 560 men) examined in 1971-2, 1976-7, 1992-3, and 2000-1.

Main outcome measures Sexual intercourse, attitudes to sexuality in later life, sexual dysfunctions, and marital satisfaction.

Results From 1971 to 2000 the proportion of 70 year olds reporting sexual intercourse increased among all groups: married men from 52% to 68% (P=0.002), married women from 38% to 56% (P=0.001), unmarried men from 30% to 54% (P=0.016), and unmarried women from 0.8% to 12% (P<0.001). Men and women from later birth cohorts reported higher satisfaction with sexuality, fewer sexual dysfunctions, and more positive attitudes to sexuality in later life than those from earlier birth cohorts. A larger proportion of men (57% v 40%, P<0.001) and women (52% v 35%, P<0.001) reported very happy relationships in 2000-1 compared with those in 1971-2. Sexual debut before age 20 increased in both sexes: in men from 52% to 77% (P<0.001) and in women from 19% to 64% (P<0.001).

Conclusion Self reported quantity and quality of sexual experiences among Swedish 70 year olds has improved over a 30 year period.


  • Contributors: NB drafted and critically revised the manuscript and analysed and interpreted the data. MW and DG critically revised the manuscript and analysed and interpreted the data. IS was responsible for funding and supervision, drafted and critically revised the manuscript, analysed and interpreted the data, and was responsible for planning the study and data collection. He is guarantor for the paper.

  • Funding: This study was supported by grants from the Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research (No 2001-2835, 2001-2646, 2003-0234, 2004-0150, 2004-0145, 2006-0596, and 2006-0020), the Alzheimer’s Association Stephanie B Overstreet Scholars (IIRG-00-2159), the Swedish Research Council (No 11267, 2005-8460, and 825-2007-7462), the Bank of Sweden Tercentary Foundation, Stiftelsen för Gamla Tjänarinnor, and Handlanden Hjalmar Svenssons Forskningsfond. The sponsors had no role in the study design, data collection, data analyses, the interpretation of data, the writing of the report, or the decision to submit the article for publication.

  • Competing interests: None declared.

  • Ethical approval: This study was approved by the ethics committee for medical research at Gothenburg University.

  • Provenance and peer review: Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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