How important is sex in later life? The views of older people

Sheffield Institute for Studies on Ageing, Community Sciences Centre, University of Sheffield, Northern General Hospital, Herries Road, S5 7AU, Sheffield, UK.
Social Science & Medicine (Impact Factor: 2.56). 05/2003; 56(8):1617-28. DOI: 10.1016/S0277-9536(02)00180-6
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Stereotypes of an asexual old age remain pervasive, shaping not only popular images of older people, but also research and policy agendas. However, older people's own attitudes towards the role and value of sex in later life remain relatively unexplored. This paper draws on both quantitative and qualitative data to examine how sex is prioritised in middle age and later life. Data collection methods involved completion of two quality of life measures (WHOQOL-100 and WHOQOL Importance Scale), followed by semi-structured interviews. In total the sample comprised 69 individuals recruited from the age/sex register of a general practice in Sheffield in the UK. This paper will focus upon the accounts of 21 men and 23 women aged 50-92 years. Ratings of the importance of sex to participants were gathered from the WHOQOL Importance Scale; the in-depth interviews enabled the basis for this prioritisation to be explored. Analysis identified the following key themes. Participants who did not consider sex to be of any importance to them neither had a current sexual partner, nor felt that they would have another sexual partner in their lifetime. Indeed, all participants who had a current sexual partner attributed at least some importance to sex, with many rating sex as 'very' or 'extremely' important. However, experiencing barriers to being sexually active led them to place less importance on sex; this was particularly apparent when health problems and widowhood were experienced. Age was seen as facilitating coping when sex became less frequent, or stopped altogether. This was explained in terms of sexual desire decreasing with age (for some male participants), the cessation of sex being easier to cope with in a relationship of long duration and the expectation that sex will become less possible with 'normal ageing'. The discussion considers the implications of these findings for this developing field.

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