May 10, 2010— -- Liz, a software developer from Silicon Valley, Calif., has been out of work for a year and just as unlucky in sex.
"The outlets for meeting people and developing relationships are the Internet and dating services, and they all charge for that," said Liz, who asked that her last name not be used.
She thought about the no-fee service, PlentyofFish.com, "but that's a Catch-22," she said. "It's free, which is great, but you are looking at people who are cheap or looking for others who are cheap."
Many of the other dating spots such as workout gyms and bars come with hefty price tags.
"If you want to go to a nice bar and meet some high-end guys, you have to spend a lot of money, unless you get someone to buy you a drink, and that doesn't happen much as we get older," she said.
Liz is 61, divorced and hasn't had a date in a year. Even if she did find Mr. Right, she said she wonders how it would play out now that she is unemployed.
"There is the constant worry about the economy, which interjects a dose of reality when you try to get intimate," she said.
Liz and other Americans 45 and older say they are engaging in sex less often and with less satisfaction, according to the just-released AARP survey, "Sex Romance and Relationships."
The survey is a follow-up to AARP's 1999 landmark report on sexual practices and attitudes, and another survey in 2004. Since then, the economy has taken a turn for the worse and, many experts say, financial worries contribute to the waning interest.
"The core problem is the stress of losing your job or being afraid you'll lost your job or losing money in your investments and the price of not having health care; pretty depressing things," said Pepper Schwartz, a sociologist from the University of Washington and a columnist for AARP, which represents 40 million Americans older than 50.
"Huge problems are unveiled when people lose that small protective cushion," said Schwartz, author of "Prime: Advice and Adventures About Sex, Love and the Sensual Years."
"When there is anxiety, sex is not on your mind, and with less money you don't go out as much," she said.
The survey is based on detailed questionnaires completed last year by 1,670 people 45 and older. The report said sexual activity among both single and married respondents had declined 10 percentage points since the 2004 survey.
Twenty-eight percent of respondents reported in the most recent survey they had intercourse at least once a week, and 40 percent at least once a month.
Only 43 percent said they were satisfied, down from 51 percent in 2004. Married couples had the least amount of sex, compared to singles with partners.
The survey asked respondents what would improve their sexual satisfaction and 20 percent of the women and 37 percent of the men said better health; 14 percent of the women and 26 percent of the men said better personal finances.
Hispanics More Enthusiastic About Sex
Meanwhile, AARP found that Hispanics are more satisfied and have more sex than their non-Hispanic counterparts. More details on that data will be released in June.
"They think it's an important quality of life," Schwartz said. "They have more habits of complimenting and hugging their partner and are sensitive to their concerns and high happiness, even when their health isn't good.
"They have a different culture about sexuality that prizes and guards it."
But for Liz, who is the single mother of a 24-year-old daughter, the sex drive has waned as she has aged.
"It just gets a lot harder," she said. "I look in the mirror, my mindset is sometimes 30 or 40, but then I take a realistic look at myself and my appearance. It's scary. And someone would want to jump in bed with me? For what reason? And even if you are doing it, it's just not quite the same."
Men and women responded differently on the survey: 21 percent of men admitted to sex outside marriage, compared to 11 percent of women. Men are also five times more likely to say they think of sex at least once a day and three times as likely to masturbate at least once a week.
But only 12 percent of the sexually active single men and only one-third of all women said they used condoms.
Previous studies have shown a rise in sexually transmitted diseases among the elderly, especially in nursing homes.
Older people are at an increasing risk for HIV/AIDS, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About 19 percent of all those with the disease are 50 and older, probably because they are not tested on a regular basis, the CDC says.
"They are simply not using condoms and it's dangerous," Schwartz said. "While the sexual transmission rate is low in this population, it's not absent and negligible."
Ten percent of the male respondents took medication to improve sexual functioning, and 23 percent reported being diagnosed for erectile dysfunction or impotence, according to the AARP survey.
Baby Boomers Turn to Online Dating
Another big change is Americans are more approving of having sex before marriage.
Other studies in both the United States and abroad show that as men and women live longer, the number of people who are sexually active after age 50 has steadily risen since the 1970s.
A 2007 study in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that 73 percent of people in the 57 to 64 age group and 53 percent of those 65 to 74 reported having had sex with a partner in the previous year. Among 75- to 85-year-olds, about 36 percent were still sexually active.
And some married baby boomers such as Cynthia Lee, a 60-year-old English teacher from Maine, say financial woes can sometimes "bring you closer."
"When the economy takes a downturn and you have a good relationship, you gravitate more to sex if you don't have any money," she said.
Many people in middle-age and the older years are also turning to online-dating services.
Gina, a 56-year-old massage therapist from San Francisco with two children in their 20s, found a new lease on life through Match.com.
She discovered in 2008 that her husband of 27 years had fallen in love with his mistress.
"It hit me like a two-by-four," said Gina, who asked that her last name not be used. "He was the only man I had been with. I had never cheated on him. I was a devoted wife and believed in my vows and loved him."
When he asked for a divorce last year, her first words were, "You are going to do this in this economy?"
Skeptical, she went online and wrote a profile. Soon she met a wonderful man who "opened the door for me sexually," Gina said. "He kind of jump-started the engine.
"I was so scared but it was great," she said. "I am still alive. It was like being a virgin at 56."
Though they are still friends, the relationship didn't work out. But Gina went back online and met another man, this one a keeper, she said.
"I was always sexual and I liked sex and loved being close, but I had just lost it so long ago," she said. "I kissed a lot of toads before I found my prince.
"A lot of my friends who are divorced sit on the couch with their animals. But there's someone out there for everyone. You can have a whole new life again.
"Have the right attitude, don't be afraid," she said. "It really does work."