What does research suggest about older women's and men's sexuality?

For a long time, research on sexuality excluded older populations. The Department of Psychology, University of Oslo, conducted a multinational survey on the sex life of people aged between 60 – 75 years old in probability samples of the population in Norway, Denmark, Belgium, and Portugal. The questionnaire was developed in English and subsequently translated into local languages.

Sexual Satisfaction, interest, enjoyment, and intercourse activity were measured by asking: ‘Thinking about your sex life in the last year: all things considered, how satisfied are you with your sex life?’, ‘Compared to 10 years ago, how would you rate your interest in sex?’, ‘Compared to 10 years ago, how would you rate your overall enjoyment of sex?’ or ‘How many times have you had or attempted sexual intercourse (vaginal, anal, or oral sex) during the past month?’.


According to questionnaire responses, three variables loaded highest on factor 1 both for men and women: having one-night stands is wrong, a married person having sexual relations with someone other than their spouse is wrong, and having sexual relations without love is OK. Factor 1 was called “Sex for love”. In both men and women in all countries, the two variables that loaded highest on factor 2 were ‘Satisfactory sexual relations are essential to the maintenance of a long-term relationship’ (reversed) and ‘Being sexually active is physically and psychologically beneficial to older people’ (reversed). Factor 2 was subsequently called ‘Sex for well-being’.

The participants did not vary much with regard to attitudes towards sex for the sake of love. Portuguese and Norwegian men and women had positive attitudes towards sex as good for wellbeing in older adults. However, while Portuguese men believed ageing was an obstacle to being sexual at this stage of life, Portuguese women did not. In Norway, it was the other way around. Norwegian men believed ageing was not an obstacle to being sexual, but Norwegian women believed it was. The attitudes of Belgian and Danish participants differed from those of the Norwegian and Portuguese participants. They believed that sex was neither good nor bad as well as not less important for the well-being of older adults. Furthermore, men, both Belgian and Danish, regarded ageing as an obstacle to sex, while the women did not.

Women’s estimates of their sexual interest and enjoyment were generally lower than men’s but showed the same pattern across countries, perhaps because of a demographic asymmetry in later life.

Attitudes influence behaviour, and behaviour influences attitudes, the relationship is bi-directional. It is, therefore, not surprising that the dimensions of attitudes, and particularly those relating to sexuality in older ages, correlated with the sexual behavioural variables.

Source: Attitudes Towards Sexuality in Older Men and Women Across Europe: Similarities, Differences, and Associations with Their Sex Lives
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