Examining the Relationship between Degree of Religiousness and Attitudes toward Elderly Sexual Activity in Undergraduate College Students

Article excerpt

Research has been conducted on individual's knowledge and attitudes toward older adult sexuality. This includes investigating attitudes and knowledge of nursing home staff, college students, and the elderly themselves. The current experiment sought to replicate previous research findings by comparing college students' attitudes and knowledge of older adult sexuality to previous research findings with retirement home residents and the community of aged individuals. In addition, the current study added to this line of research by examining the relationship between college students' attitudes and knowledge of older adult sexuality and their degree of religiosity. Results indicated that degree of religiosity did indeed influence attitudes and knowledge of older adult sexuality. Implications of these findings are discussed.

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It is not a new idea that young people view sexual activity in older adults as virtually non-existent (West, 1975). However, research (e.g., White, 1982a) and reports from physicians (e.g., West, 1975) provide a different picture indicating that older adults have both sexual needs and engage in sexual activities. Therefore, social scientists have examined what people know and what people think about elderly sexuality. This includes investigating attitudes and knowledge of nursing home staff, college students, and the elderly themselves.

Research consistently notes the negative attitudes that nursing home staff have toward sexual activity of elderly (e.g., Brown, 1989; Deacon, Minichiello, & Plummer, 1995; Szasz, 1983). Recent scholarly findings indicated that having less experience working with older people and being of a younger age were predictive of more negative and restrictive attitudes toward later life sexuality (Bouman, Archelus, & Benbow, 2007). However, if individuals receive educational training, improvements in knowledge and attitudes have been noted (Goldstein-Lohman & Aitken, 1995).

Research has also focused on how the elderly themselves perceive older adult sexuality and how much they actually know about sexuality in general. Bond and Tramer (1983) found that individuals between the ages of 56 and 75 reported that younger individuals would perceive older adult sexuality less favorable and that doctors and spouses were perceived as more supportive of older adult sexuality than friends, clergy, or adult children. Walker (1999) reports that older adults scored a 67% on knowledge of sexuality and Story (1989) found that college students had more knowledge and more positive attitudes toward older adult sexuality than retirement home elderly residents. In addition, college students attitudes toward older adult sexuality become more permissive when there is the perception of closeness with at least one grandparent (Hillman & Stricker, 1996).

Although there is limited research directly examining the relationship between degree of religiousness and attitudes toward elderly sexual activity, research has been conducted on how religion influences general attitudes toward sex and marriage. This line of research with college students has found that degree of religiosity and how often college students attend church services were significantly related to attitudes toward premarital sex. In addition, degree of religiosity and specific type of religious affiliation were related to the type of contraceptive method used by college students who were engaging in sexual activities (Pluhar, Frongillo, Stycos, & Dempster-McClain, 1998). A recent study on college students in London found that the more religious students reported being the more conservative their attitudes toward sex were and the lower their sexual health knowledge was (Coleman & Testa, 2008). Finally, religion of college students has been found to influence students' attitudes towards people marrying at a later age (Stinnett & Montgomery, 1968).

Research has also examined how religion influences attitudes and behaviors of adults in sexual relationships. …