Sexuality of Canadian Women at Midlife

By Fraser, Julie; Maticka-Tyndale, Eleanor et al. | The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, Fall-Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Sexuality of Canadian Women at Midlife


Fraser, Julie, Maticka-Tyndale, Eleanor, Smylie, Lisa, The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality


ABSTRACT: The sexuality of women at midlife has received insufficient attention in social scientific inquiry. This" is troubling given the number of women in this age group and the tendency to emphasize biomedical over social factors in research on the sexual health issues that may affect women at midlife. This paper reviews the literature on female sexuality at midlife including sexual behaviour measures from large scale national surveys in the United States, Great Britain and France. In the absence of comparable population studies in Canada, data from Canada's National Population Health Survey (NPHS) were used in a logistic regression analysis to determine the relative influence of sociodemographic, lifestyle, and health factors on reported sexual intercourse activity of 15,249 Canadian women 35-59 years of age. Across this sample, sociodemographic and lifestyle factors were the most consistent predictors with health factors coming into play primarily for women over the age of 50. The study was limited by the lack of complete national data on sexual behaviour measures other than intercourse. While the Canadian government regularly collects data on a wide variety of health-related factors through instruments" such as the NPHS, few if any questions ask about sexual behaviour and some provinces or health regions may opt to exclude such questions. Canada needs national surveys that give much greater priority to sexual behaviour and sexual health issues including those that affect women at midlife.

Key words: Female sexuality Midlife National Population Health Survey Social factors

INTRODUCTION

Research on gender differences in health has tended to neglect older people in comparison to the attention given to younger age groups (Arber & Cooper, 1999), a neglect that is even more apparent when the focus turns to the study of sexuality and sexual health in midlife and later. While the increasing presence of the aging "baby boom" generation in the consumer market has precipitated a change in the sexual image of older persons in advertising (Featherstone & Hepworth, 1990) and in media and popular culture (Walz, 2002), research on aging and sexuality has only begun to catch up. For some time there has been a call for more research on age-related changes in women's sexual experiences during midlife (Mooradian & Greiff, 1990) and on the unexamined stereotypical expectations implicit in some research on this topic (Gannon, 1998). A review of research literature on women at midlife in Canada is timely given the current and projected numbers of women in this age group in the Canadian population. Canada's "baby boom" generation (those born from 1947-1966) is now, in 2005, aged 39-58. In 2001 women aged 35-59 years represented just under 19% of Canada's population (Statistics Canada, 2005). These women are now in or approaching what is often identified as the midlife age category and they will be the source of the sizeable projected increases in the 45-64 and 65-69 age groups by 2011. It is thus important to have reliable information on factors likely to affect their sexual functioning and sexual health.

This paper begins with a brief review of research literature on the sexual experiences of women at midlife including a sampling of findings on women at midlife drawn from three large national surveys from France, Great Britain and the United States. We then use data from Canada's National Population Health Survey (NPHS) to document the socioeconomic and general health characteristics of Canadian women in younger and older age categories from 35 to 59 and to identify associations between these characteristics and available data on their sexual behaviour, also obtained in the NPHS.

SEXUALITY AT MIDLIFE: INCREMENT OR DECREMENT?

Do women experience a decrease in sexual function at midlife? A straightforward answer to this question is confounded by the difficulty of finding studies that share a similar understanding and operationalization of what constitutes sexual function.

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