A new report has highlighted that the sexual health of older people should not be overlooked by health care professionals in the broader context of maintaining well-being during ageing.
‘How long will I love you? Sex and intimacy in later life’, published by Manchester Metropolitan University, The University of Manchester and think-tank the International Longevity Centre (ILC-UK), has analysed data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing to examine difficulties with sexual activities and function, attitudes towards sex and details about the current sexual partners of over 50s. This work also builds on collaborative work with Dr Sharron Hinchliff at the University of Sheffield.
The data, gathered from over 7000 over 50s, found that women over 80 were more likely to share the sexual likes of their partner, feel emotionally close to them and not feel obligated to have sex with them than those aged 50-79.
Men over 80 also reported that they were more likely to share the sexual likes of their partner and feel emotionally close to them than those aged 50-79. However, men over 80 also reported that they felt a greater degree of obligation to have sex with their partner than at any age between 50-79.
Importance of intimacy
Using the Satisfaction with Life Scale measurement of subjective wellbeing, ‘How long will I love you?’ also found that for both men and women aged 50-90+, there was a positive association between frequency of kissing, fondling and petting and overall levels of subjective wellbeing.
However, whilst women’s subjective wellbeing continued to increase with frequency of intimate behaviour, subjective wellbeing was slightly lower amongst men who reported having sexual intercourse with their partners every day than it was for those who reported intercourse 2/3 times per week.
However, despite the report’s findings on the importance of intimacy in later life, it concludes that not enough is being done to ensure that older people have access to good sexual health care and support.
“We know that many men and women remain sexually active throughout their lives, and that intimate relationships in later life can continue to have a positive impact of overall health and wellbeing,” said Baroness Sally Greengross OBE, Chief Executive of ILC-UK. “Unfortunately, in 2017 there is still a need to dispel myths around relationships in later life.”
Advice and services available
“Organisations like the ILC-UK will continue to make the case for a life course approach to sexual health and relationships which sees advice and services available from the college to the care home.”
Professor Josie Tetley, Professor of Ageing and Long-Term Conditions at Manchester Metropolitan University, said: “Many couples want to continue to lead active sexual lives or to maintain some level of intimacy in older age. Irrespective of age, positive sexual activity is linked to higher levels of happiness and well-being but for older people, the obstacles they face are often overlooked or disregarded. Others are often reluctant to seek help, due to embarrassment or feeling that they will not be taken seriously.
“It is so important that health professionals pro-actively engage with older people and help them overcome issues affecting their sexual activity, such as health conditions, physical impairment, or drops in sexual desire. It is also important that individuals and couples are directed to healthcare services that would help older people achieve good sexual health.”
Notes to editors
Enquiries for the ILC-UK should go to Dave Eaton at (firstname.lastname@example.org / 02073400440 / 07531 164886)
To speak to the researchers, please contact:
Maryam Ahmed in the Manchester Metropolitan University press office on MAhmed@mmu.ac.uk
A video interview is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xf8X3ZfXxwQ
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