Academic journal article
By McFarland, Michael J.; Uecker, Jeremy E.; Regnerus, Mark D.
The Journal of Sex Research , Vol. 48, No. 2-3
Despite longstanding stereotypes to the contrary, sexual interest remains alive among older adults. In data from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP), only one in four 75- to 85-year-old men report a complete lack of interest in sex, and only about one half of 75- to 85-year-old women say the same (Lindau et al., 2007). In fact, these numbers are not significantly different than those for 57- to 64- and 65- to 74-year-olds. Furthermore, many older adults are not merely interested in the idea of sex, they are still sexually active, although activity does decrease with age as physical ailments emerge and the death of spouses or partners increase (Lindau et al., 2007). Older adults' satisfaction with their sexual relationships--the physical pleasure and emotional satisfaction they provide remains relatively high: About one in three place a high value on sex (Laumann et al., 2006). Sexual activity retains benefits for older adults, including increased life satisfaction and marital quality (Yeh, Lorenz, Wickrama, Conger, & Elder, 2006), and research suggests that a satisfying sex life among married couples may, in fact, delay mortality (Seldin, Friedman, & Martin, 2002). Given the continued importance of sex for older adults and its positive implications for the--and considering how little we know about sex among seniors--it seems important to identify factors that shape their sexual activity and satisfaction.
Although Americans over 50 years old will soon make up the largest demographic in the United States, there has only been modest attention given to their sexual behavior patterns (Delamater & Moorman, 2007). Drawing upon the NSHAP data, scholars have begun to investigate the sexual behaviors and functioning of older Americans ages 57 to 85, revealing that women are significantly less likely than men to report sexual activity at all ages, with 43% of women indicating low desire as their most prevalent sexual problem (Lindau et al., 2007). Gender disparities in having a spouse or romantic partner increase with age, as 78% of men and 40% of women ages 75 to 85 report having a spouse or partner. Those with poor health understandably reported less sexual activity than those in good or very good health. Although these demographic and health factors are important and informative and intuitive, they shed little light on more qualitative aspects of older adults' relationships that may influence their sexual activity and satisfaction.
Studies of sexual satisfaction focus more directly on such qualitative aspects of relationships (Kollock, Blumstein, & Schwartz, 1985). Sexual satisfaction is typically defined quite broadly as the degree to which an individual is satisfied with their sexual relationship; it encompasses both physical pleasure and emotional satisfaction derived from sex. Sexual satisfaction is positively associated with marital quality and duration (Edwards & Booth, 1994; Yeh et al., 2006). Delamater, Hyde, and Fong (2008), using data on sexuality among men and women in their mid-60s, noted that satisfaction is closely linked with marital happiness and sexual frequency, and that the association is bidirectional (Delamater & Moorman, 2007). These findings are consistent with other research on sexuality among younger and middle-aged adults that also suggests the frequency of sex and satisfaction with it to be closely connected (Young, Luquis, Denny, & Young, 1998). Still, many factors that may explain older adults' sex lives remain unexamined.
Religion, Aging, and Sex
One component of older adults' lives that may influence both sexual decision making and satisfaction is religiosity. Gerontologists suggest that both religion and spirituality tend to become increasingly important to Americans as they age (Koenig, Kvale, & Ferrel, 1988; Wink & Dillon, 2002). Qualitative studies note that religion and spirituality often rise in step with processes of coping with age-related changes in health, functioning, social losses, and with the growing recognition of impending mortality (Dalby, 2006). …