The Impact of Aging on Human Sexual Activity and Sexual Desire
Kontula, Osmo, Haavio-Mannila, Elina, The Journal of Sex Research
The Impact of Aging on Sexual Activity
Sexuality and the desire for intimacy are essential and important human features from birth until death. Gerontologists and other medical experts generally agree that continued sexual interest and activity can be therapeutic for older men and women (Willert & Semans, 2000). Aging women who have a partner with whom they can enjoy intimacy are in better mental health compared with women without this kind of partner. For most elderly people, sexual activity is still an important means for expressing love and caring (Campbell & Huff, 1995).
Numerous studies have identified a decrease in sexual interest and activity in old age (Araujo, Mohr, & McKinlay, 2004; Beutel, Schumacher, Weidner, & Brahler, 2002; Blanker et al., 2001; Dennerstein & Lehert, 2004; Hayes & Dennerstein, 2005; Laumann et al., 2005; Lindau et al., 2007; Marsiglio & Donnelly, 1991; Nicolosi et al., 2006). This transition has been explained, for example, by biological and psychological factors, diseases, mental conditions, boredom with the relationship, and widowhood (DeLamater & Sill, 2005; Thienhaus, 1988). However, seldom have these factors been comprehensively studied by representative national survey samples.
In analyzing the data, it is necessary to distinguish between the role and impact of aging as such and membership in a specific generation. Aging plays an important role in sexuality, but the generations subsequent to the era of sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s have considerably modified their sexual values and behavior patterns. Carpenter, Nathanson, and Kim (2007) found that lower levels of satisfaction in older age stemmed from generational differences rather than from aging per se. This transition will apparently continue in subsequent generations.
Biological factors have an indisputable effect on sexual activity among the elderly, but they do not directly determine it. Numerous studies have shown that as men age, they undergo adaptations in physiology, hormonal levels, and sensory capacities that reduce, on average, human sexual desire and activity (Bartlik & Goldstein, 2001; Bortz, Wallace, & Wiley, 1999). Chronic disorders such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, and prostate disease may have a negative effect on sexual functioning and response (DeLamater & Sill, 2005). There are also psychological impacts of illnesses and surgical interventions on sexual functioning.
DeLamater and Sill (2005) believed that biological factors provide a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for sexual functioning. To come up with a comprehensive approach to aging sexuality, a bio-psychological perspective is needed--one that combines biological, psychological, and socio-environmental factors and realms.
In the psychological realm, sexuality includes identity, body image, self-esteem, eroticism, emotions, and their expression and imagination (Badeau, 1995). Good quality sexual intimacy is only achievable by individuals who are mature, independent, have good self-esteem and trust, and respect their partners; in short, those who have the capacity for emotional intimacy (Kingsberg, 2002).
In the social realm, Trudel, Turgeon, and Piche (2000) listed a number of social determinants and factors that influence sexual activity. These include social taboos; conjugal status; and knowledge about sexuality, self-esteem, and attitudes toward sexuality. In other words, the expressions of sexuality in a given society are governed also by common ideas, norms, and regulations. In the moral and religious realms, sexuality embodies learned individual values (Badeau, 1995).
In the social realm, the availability of a partner definitely influences sexual expression, as does the quality of interaction and communication with that partner. Aging can be related to sexual desire and activity …
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Publication information: Article title: The Impact of Aging on Human Sexual Activity and Sexual Desire. Contributors: Kontula, Osmo - Author, Haavio-Mannila, Elina - Author. Journal title: The Journal of Sex Research. Volume: 46. Issue: 1 Publication date: January-February 2009. Page number: 46+. © 2007 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. COPYRIGHT 2009 Gale Group.
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