Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Past-Year Sexual Inactivity among Older Married Persons and Their Partners

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Past-Year Sexual Inactivity among Older Married Persons and Their Partners

Article excerpt

Family scholars have focused on the onset of sexual activity early in the life course, but little is known about the cessation of sexual activity in relationships in later life. We use event-history analysis techniques and logistic regression to identify the correlates of sexual inactivity among older married men and women. We analyze data for 1,502 married people from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project, a nationally representative sample of 3,005 noninstitutionalized American men and women ages 57 to 85. We find 29% of the married persons report no sexual activity for the previous 12 months or more. Relationship duration, chronological age, and poor physical health are all independently associated with sexual inactivity. Characteristics such as marital happiness, premarital cohabitation, and remarriage are also associated with levels of inactivity or activity. Analyses also point to gender differences in the correlates of sexual inactivity.

Key Words: families in middle and later life, gender, health, marriage, sexual behavior, well-being.

The onset of sexual behavior among adolescents is of great interest to family scholars (e.g., Baumer & South, 2001; Bersamin et al., 2008; Browning, Leventhal, & Brooks-Gunn, 2005) and is treated as a major life-course transition. The cessation of sexual activity in later life may be equally significant but has not received much empirical attention. Information on sexuality in later life has the potential to help researchers identify the determinants of well-being in aging societies, including the United States, where the first Baby Boomers turned 65 in 2011. In contrast to the negative connotations of early -life sexual activity (sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancy), sexual activity in later life is associated with better physical health and higher overall well-being (American Association of Retired Persons, 2010; Brody, 2010). Nevertheless, little is known about sexual activity in later life, and what is currently known focuses on specific issues such as sexual dysfunction or frequency.

The study of sexual activity in later life is of particular relevance for scholars of the family and intimate relationships. Most sexual activity is coupled (Gagnon, Giami, Michaels, & de Colomby, 2001), and marriage is an important context for sexual activity, particularly at older ages (Lindau & Gavrilova, 2010; Karraker, DeLamater, & Schwartz, 2011). This fact reflects cultural norms limiting intimate sexual activity to persons in committed relationships as well as increasingly imbalanced sex ratios due to excess male mortality, which affects partner availability for women (Austad, 2006). Furthermore, sexual activity is intertwined with the benefits of intimate relationships such as marriage. Research has repeatedly shown that marriage is related to positive outcomes (e.g., Waite, 1995) and marriage retains its positive impact throughout the life course (e.g., Schone & Weinick, 1998). Couple relationships provide instrumental and social support as well as opportunities for meaningful activity; as people age, the romantic partner may become more important as a primary, or the only, source of these rewards. In addition, sexual activity is not only sanctioned in marriage, it is often expected by society and by individuals. Thus, it is not surprising that sexual activity is an important correlate of relationship satisfaction in later life (DeLamater, Hyde, & Fong, 2008) and affects the stability and longevity of relationships (Yabiku & Gager, 2009). Finally, the link between marital quality and sexual activity is particularly important given that the health benefits of marriage vary by marital quality (Umberson, Williams, Powers, Lui, & Needham, 2006).

One limitation of past research on sexuality conducted by family scholars has been the almost exclusive focus on the frequency of sexual behavior after sexual debut in adolescence. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.