Older Singles Having More Sex — But What's "Single," Anyway?

A new study says "singles" over 45 are happier with their sex lives than married people of the same age. Intriguing — but accurate?

While Tara Parker-Pope's most recent book For Better argues that married people don't actually have less sex than single ones, a survey by the AARP found the old stereotype was true — at least for those over 45. Forty-eight percent of "dating singles" reported having sex at least once a week, compared to only 36% of married people. And while 60% of single people were satisfied with sex lives, only 52% of the married could say the same. Somewhat amusingly, the best predictor of sexual satisfaction in the survey was sexual frequency — guess quantity trumps quality.

The study raises some questions, however. Who are the "dating singles" the researchers surveyed (they sound like something you'd put on a sandwich)? Are they casually dating, or are they people in exclusive relationships that simply don't have the legal status of marriage? This is a shortcoming of so many studies of relationship behavior — many researchers seem not to have caught up with the fact that being unmarried but in a committed relationship isn't the same as being single and dating around. This blind spot is especially troubling given that more people than ever are choosing cohabitation before or instead of marriage — the relationship categories offered by everything from surveys like this one to forms at the doctor's office haven't evolved to account for them.

If "dating singles" included over-45s in relatively new but committed relationships, I could certainly see them having more sex than long-married people — though it's not always the case, sexual frequency does tend to taper off over time. On the other hand, if these singles are really dating in the sense of non-exclusively seeing different people, then maybe they're leading bed-hopping Sex and the City lifestyles in their late 40s and beyond. Which would be kind of awesome, except the survey says they are also unlikely to use condoms. Whatever the case, it's time for sex and relationship research to catch up to the fact that people aren't necessarily following a straight path from single to married anymore — and that might be fine with them.

U.S. Singles Happier With Sex Than Married [UPI.com]
"For Better": The Science Of Marital Unhappiness [Salon]
Why The So-Called "Marriage Gap" Is Good For Your Relationship [Psychology Today]