Sexual satisfaction of middle-aged and older adults

Dr. Elżbieta Buczak-Stec is a researcher at the Department of Health Economics and Health Services Research. Priv.-Doz. Dr. phil. André Hajek is a senior researcher at the Department of Health Economics and Health Services Research; both are based at the UKE - University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany and are members of HCHE - the Hamburg Center of Health Economics. Prof. Dr. med. Hans-Helmut König, MD, MPH is the Director of the Department.

For a long time, the sexuality of older individuals was overlooked by the general public and by healthcare professionals. Fortunately, nowadays, attitudes towards sexuality of older individuals are gradually changing. It is recognised that despite sexual problems being common, many older individuals are sexually active in later life. What is also very important is many of them are satisfied with their sex life. Why is sexual satisfaction in later life so important? Among other reasons, it is worth mentioning that sexual satisfaction is linked to successful ageing and is also positively related to subjective well-being.

Sexual satisfaction, for both middle-aged and older adults, does not only relate to sexual intercourse. It also encompasses satisfaction with all kinds of sexual activities that individual values e.g. intercourse, kissing, and fondling. Moreover, sexual activity and sexual satisfaction matter to both partnered and non-partnered individuals.

In our Age and Ageing research article we investigated the determinants of sexual satisfaction among community-dwelling older adults longitudinally. In our research, we used data from three waves of a large, nationally representative study – the German Ageing Survey (DEAS). Overall more than 3,800 individuals participated in the first wave of our study, and approximately 36% of the individuals were aged over 65+.

Firstly, we compared the sexual satisfaction of middle-aged (40 to 64 years) and older (65+ years) individuals. We revealed that older individuals reported lower satisfaction scores than their younger counterparts. We also showed that the older the individual, the less satisfied they were with their sex life. Nonetheless, approximately 35% of the individuals aged 65 and up to 80 years were still satisfied with their sex lives.

What is also remarkable is that only a few differences were observed between middle-aged adults and older individuals in terms of the determinants of sexual satisfaction. According to our research, several factors played a role in both age groups: increased satisfaction was related to a lower number of physical illnesses, better self-rated health, absence of depression and lower levels of loneliness. In contrast, for older individuals and also for middle-aged adults, sexual satisfaction was not associated with cognitive functioning.

In our study, we tried to extend our understanding of the relationship between sexual satisfaction and the importance of sexuality and intimacy for the individual. Our results suggest that sexuality and intimacy are both important for older and middle-aged individuals.

Sociodemographic factors like place of residence (e.g. urban-rural districts vs. large cities) and level of education seem to be important for sexual satisfaction among older individuals aged 65 years and more, but not for middle-aged adults (45-64 years old).

In our research, we also looked at the differences in sexual satisfaction between women and men. We showed that older women reported higher satisfaction with their sex life than older men. This difference was not observed among middle-aged adults (40-64 years old).

In conclusion, our Age and Ageing article, Sexual satisfaction of middle-aged and older adults. Longitudinal findings from a nationally representative sample, emphasised that almost the same determinants (with the exception of sociodemographic factors), were associated with satisfaction with their sex life among both middle-aged and older adults. Unexpectedly, many individuals in old age are not that dissatisfied with their sex life. Beyond “Geriatric Giants” such as frailty, immobility or loneliness, we think that additionally taking a closer look at sexual satisfaction may contribute to a better understanding of successful ageing. We hope that our current work will inspire new research in this area.


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