Miley Cyrus says sex ends at 40. Au contraire, say experts

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By Brian Alexander

Maybe Miley Cyrus won’t be having sex after 40, but an awful lot of people do. During Monday's sit-down with Matt Lauer, the 20-year-old Cyrus repeated an oft-heard claim of the young -- that “old” people, like those over 40, “don’t have sex any more.”

"Do you know how old I am?" Matt asked.

"I'm going to guess 40," said Miley.

"55!" Matt corrected.

"55," Miley laughed. "Oh, well then, you're really, definitely, not sexual."

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Oh, yeah? Sex expert Joan Price, nearly 70-years-old “and not slowing down a heck of a lot,” believes the misconception comes from a society that says “if you don’t look like Miley Cyrus, you’re not having sex.” Price is the author of "Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex." 

According to a 2007 study in the New England Journal of Medicine, roughly 75 percent of people ages 57 to 64 were still sexually active. The rate did drop as people got older, with 53 percent of those 65 to 74 saying they still had sex, and about one quarter of those 75 to 85 reporting they did, too.

There’s no question that sex changes with age. Studies show a significant fall off in desire, especially among women after menopause. Challenges such as vaginal dryness, erectile dysfunction, and general health issues can affect older couples -- not to mention simple boredom among long-married people.

“But for every problem there is a solution,” Price said. For example, she advises older women, not to wait for spontaneous desire because it may not happen. “I tell women to just do it, and the mood will follow,” she said. “That’s opposite of when you’re younger.”

According to Sue Goldstein, a sexuality educator and program coordinator for San Diego Sexual Medicine, sexual interest and activity is not age-based. “We have patients as young as 18 and as old as 90 coming to be treated so they can once again enjoy a satisfying sexual life,” she said.

Writer Suzy Spencer, says “all you have to do to disprove Miley Cyrus’ statement is go to a swing convention to see people over 40 having lots of sex." “And there are millions of swingers in the United States,” said Spencer, who spent eight years reporting her 2012 book, "Secret Sex Lives: A Year on the Fringes of American Sexuality."

Of course, most people over 40 are not swingers. But attitude is one change that actually seems to improve sexuality and sexual enjoyment as we age. Older people tend to be more confident -- or at least more comfortable with – their sexuality. They care less what anybody thinks, Spencer said. 

When Spencer attended a “beautiful people” party in Miami, populated with an under-40 crowd, she encountered lots of self-conscious preening, not the most sexually stimulating kind of scene. In fact, both Spencer and Price said that people over 40 tend to be more relaxed about themselves, and therefore freer to enjoy whatever sexual life -- mild or wild -- they choose.  

While some older folks are done with sex, "I have many more who say ‘Why should I be done with it?’ Just because we’re wrinkled doesn’t mean we’re not having great sex,” said Price.  

Brian Alexander is a frequent contributor to NBC News and a co-author of “The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex, and the Science of Attraction.”