Aging is the process of growing older, and with that comes many stereotypes that are constantly being reinforced throughout society. A very common stereotype among older adults is the belief of the decrease in sexual activity and desirability of sex. Through research, it is very clear that many studies of this specific topic have been evaluated and were able to prove whether or not this stereotype of loss of sexual desire is true or not.
Relationships Among Sexual Desire and Sexual Activity:
It is easy to assume that older adults are lacking of sexual activity due to their process of growing older, including their mental and physical health, quality of life, and even the aging of skin and hair related to primary aging which may result in low self-esteem. In Chao, Lin & Ma’s (2011) study, its main purpose is to show the effect that sexual satisfaction and desire have on older adult’s quality of life and their own personal happiness. Out of the 283 men and women ages 45 to 90 participating in this cross sectional study (179 of them having a partner) it is safe to say that sexual activity did decrease in these aging adults, but the satisfaction level was still at a high level. Through Chao’s study it was clear that the dependent variable was the actual sexual participation of the older adults based on the individual’s happiness, while the independent variable or control group was the age, gender, health, ethnicity, and education of each individual adult (Chao, Lin & Ma, 2011)
Since the stereotypes of older adults having less of a desire to engage in sexual activity, the results of this study were surprising to me. These authors also indicate that 40% of the participating interviewers are still having sexual intercourse once or more per month (Chao et al., 2011). This study had concluded that there was no correlation and that no matter the quality of life that around 75% of men and 60% of women are still interested in sex. Through Chao’s (2011) study it was shown that the stereotype that older adults are losing sexual interest and having less sexual intercourse is incorrect. It was determined prevalently through this cross sectional study that older adults are still highly interested in sexual activity, and still have a strong desire for it (Chao et al, 2011).
Marriage and Sexual Intimacy:
Marriage also has a very strong impact on sexual intimacy in older adults which was studied in depth in Stroope, McFarland, & Uecker’s (2014) research on marriage and sexual intimacy’s correlation. Although it was proven that sexual intercourse was less frequent among the second marriage than the first, it was still proven that around 40% of married couples have remained sexually active. In this longitudinal observation, Stroope studied 1,656 married, older adults ages 57 through 85 years old for approximately 10 years to note the difference and persistence of sexual activity in their relationships. Although only one out of three interviewers placed a high value on sex, it was shown that around 30% have sexual intercourse once a month or less. This study had the same independent variable of age, gender, health, ethnicity, and education but also adding in being married while the dependent variable is the people in the study staying consistently married throughout the course of the experiment (Stroope et al, 2014).
The results of this study show that out of these 1,656 married individuals almost half have stayed sexually active at least once per month (Stroope et al, 2014). It was reported that there is lack of sexual intercourse in marriage because the partners become more accustomed to having each other around which has the tendency to let the sexual desire they once had to fade away. Another main factor of the lack of sex shown is the commonality of sexual dysfunction among men, but also that 43% of women reported low sexual desire. This longitudinal observation run can definitely affirm that sexual desire among married couples has decreased, but it still refutes the stereotype that older people have lost interest in sexual activity and desire because it is still very prominent, just not to the extent that it was once before (Stroope et al, 2014).
Aging Correlation with Sexual Activity:
In early adulthood it is common for the young adult to be persistently sexually active mostly because of the rise of testosterone for boys and the beginning of the menstrual cycle for girls. Within older adults though, testosterone gradually decreases and women have gone through or are going through menopause which is causing their estrogen levels to fall causing them to have less of a sexual desire or sexual dysfunction. In Das’ (2016) article, she intensely studies the downward fall of sexual activity among older adults based on hormonal causation. In this longitudinal study there are 650 women and 620 men between the ages of 57 to 85 being studied over a period of time. These interviews were held over time to get accurate results of the subject being studied, having the independent variable, again, being age, gender, and ethnicity, while the dependent variable was decreasing hormonal balance (Das, 2016).
In conclusion of this study, it was shown that although men have higher levels of testosterone than women, there is still a major decrease in sexual activity for both (Das, 2016). Though this study focuses mostly on hormonal changes, it also reported other reasons for lack of sexual desire including mental health problems, relationship issues, and low libido which is loss of interest for sex. The interviewers in this study reported that the cause for their loss of interest in sexual activity and desire was 60% blaming hormonal imbalances, 40% on mental health problems, and 23% on relationship issues. This study conducted by Aniruddha Das (2016) also refutes stereotypes that older adults are no longer sexually active because it is made apparent that although there are hormonal imbalances, health problems and other factors, many older adults are still engaging in sexual activity (Das, 2016).
Physical, Emotional, and Cognitive Functions:
There are many factors contributing to the decrease of sexual activity among older adults including the physical, emotional, and cognitive functions that are described in depth in Wang, Depp, & Ceglowski’s, et al. (2015) observational study. Through this study there were 606 adults’ ages 50-69 being interviewed having the same independent variable as the other studies of age, gender, and ethnicity and the dependent variable of physical or emotional changes throughout the process. The results of the study indicated that 80% of individuals engaging in sex within the past year, and 70% engaging weekly. Also displaying that over 60% of people being interviewed were satisfied with their sex lives. The outcome of the study displayed that physical defects including arthritis and back pain, emotional problems like depression and stress, and cognitive functions causing issues in relationships can all be factors of the decrease in sex, but not enough to not participate in sex any longer. This study conducted by Vicki Wang (2015) is another that refutes the stereotype about older adults no longer engaging in sexual activities, mentioning that only 20% of the interviewers were not actively engaging in sex within the past year (Wang, Depp, & Ceglowski, et al., 2015).
It is evident through these four different studies that among older adults averaging between the ages of 50 through 90 that there is still sexual needs and sexual desire in one’s lifestyle. Although there are many factors that come with aging including lower testosterone and estrogen level, health related issues, relationships status, and physical/mental changes, the fact is that sexual activity still remains important the older we get.
Chao, J. K., Lin, Y. C., Ma, M. C. et al. (2011). Relationship among sexual desire, sexual satisfaction, and quality of life in middle-aged and older adults. Journal of Sex and Martial Therapy, 37, 386-403. doi: 10.1080/0092623X.2011.607051.
Das, A., Sawin, N. (2016) Social Modulation or Hormonal Causation? Linkages of Testosterone with Sexual Activity and Relationship Quality in a Nationally Representative Longitudinal Sample of Older Adults. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 45, 2101-2115. doi: 10.1007/s10508-016-0815-2
Stroope, S., McFarland, M. J., Uecker, J. E. (2015) Marital Characteristics and the Sexual Relationships of U.S. Older Adults: An Analysis of National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project Data. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44, 233-247. doi: 10.1007/s10508-014-0379-y.
Wang, V., Depp, C. A., Ceglowski, J. et al. Sexual Health and Function in Later Life: A Population-Based Study of 606 Older Adults with a Partner. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 23, 227-233. doi: http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy2.library.colostate.edu:2 048/10.1016/j.jagp.2014.03.006