Sexual Activity and Physical Tenderness in Older Adults: Cross-Sectional Prevalence and Associated Characteristics

Rosanne Freak-Poli, Maggie Kirkman, Gustavo De Castro Lima, Nese Direk, Oscar H Franco, Henning W Tiemeier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Background Despite a common misconception, older adults engage in sexual behavior. However, there is limited sexual behavior research in older adults, which is often restricted to small samples, to cohorts recruiting adults from 45 years old, and to questions regarding only sexual intercourse. Aim To assess the cross-sectional prevalence of and characteristics associated with sexual activity and physical tenderness in community-dwelling older adults. Methods From the Rotterdam Study, sexual activity and physical tenderness were assessed in 2,374 dementia-free, community-dwelling men and women at least 65 years old from 2009 through 2012 in the Netherlands. Analyses were stratified by sex and partner status. Outcomes Sexual activity and physical tenderness (eg, fondling or kissing) in the last 6 months. Potential associated characteristics included measurements of demographics, socioeconomic position, health behavior, and health status. Results The vast majority of partnered participants (men, n = 858; women, n = 724) had experienced physical tenderness in the previous 6 months (83.7% of men and 82.9% of women) and nearly half had engaged in sexual activity (49.5% and 40.4% respectively). Very few unpartnered women (n = 675) had engaged in sexual activity (1.3%) or physical tenderness (5.2%), whereas prevalence rates were slightly higher for unpartnered men (n = 117; 13.7% or 17.1%). Engaging in sexual behavior was generally associated with younger age, greater social support, healthier behaviors, and better physical and psychological health. Clinical Implications Findings show that older adults engage in sexual activity. It is important not to assume that an older person is not interested in sexual pleasure or that an older person is unhappy with not having a sexual partner. Offering an opportunity for open discussion of sexuality and medical assistance without imposing is a difficult balance. We encourage health care professionals to proactively address sexuality and extend knowledge about safe sex and sexual function to older adults. Strengths and Limitations Thus far, this is one of the largest samples of sexual behavior assessment in adults older than 60 years. Limitations of this study are common in sexual behavior research, including low sexual behavior engagement among unpartnered older adults and a small sample of unpartnered men, which restricted sex- and age-specific implications. Conclusion Almost half of partnered older adults engaged in sexual activity and more than two thirds engaged in physical tenderness, but very few unpartnered older adults engaged in these behaviors. The greatest barrier to being sexually active at an older age is lack of a partner, which particularly affects women. Sexuality is an important aspect of active aging. Freak-Poli R, Kirkman M, De Castro Lima G, et al. Sexual Activity and Physical Tenderness in Older Adults: Cross-Sectional Prevalence and Associated Characteristics. J Sex Med 2017;14:918–927.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)918-927
Number of pages10
JournalThe Journal of Sexual Medicine
Volume14
Issue number7
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2017

Keywords

  • 80 Years and Older
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aging
  • Geriatrics
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Sexual Partners
  • Sexuality
  • Sex Factors
  • Touch

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