Aging Expectations

Research: Aging and Sex, Yes Those Words Go Together

Today’s research topic is a good one. Sex and aging!

A very taboo topic but I think an important one.

In the last study we examined, there were quite a few terms that needed definition. This article is not as in-depth but here’s a quick refresher on just one important one:

  • Subjective Age: the number of years a person feels they have lived and into which age group a person categorizes themselves – in relation to this study subjective age relates to how old a person feels when they look in the mirror, how old is the person staring back at them

Now, let’s get to the sex study!

What Was the Experiment Name?
Self-Perceptions of Aging: Do Subjective Age and Satisfaction With Aging Change During Old Age?

Who Conducted the Study?

Amy Estill – Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health, Steven E. MockUniversity of Waterloo, Emily SchryerCalifornia State University, and Richard P. Eibach – University of Waterloo

What Was the Purpose?

These researchers understand the power of sex. They studied previous researchers’ findings related to how sexuality can improve the quality of adults’ lives through relationship enhancement and be a positive contributor to good health across one’s entire lifespan.

They understood from previous research that biological health plays an important part in an active, healthy sex life in later years. However, they believed there was a gap in how psychological factors contributed.

Specifically, they wanted to see how people’s perspectives on aging affected their sexuality.

Therefore, they developed two hypotheses.

1. The older adults felt in midlife and later life, the less frequently they would engage in sexual activity and the less favorable their ratings of quality of and interest in sex would be. Conversely, the more favorable older adults’ attitudes about aging were, the more they would engage in sexual activity and the more favorable their ratings of quality and interest in sex would be.

2. Positive aging attitudes would buffer any negative effect of older subjective age on the frequency of sex and ratings of quality and interest in sex.

How Was the Research Obtained?

This research team drew 1,006 participants from the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) survey, a national survey of more than 7,000 Americans that collected data on psychological, social, and behavioral factors related to physical and mental health, including sexuality. 47.1% were female, 53.7 years was the mean age, 92.9% were white, 73.3% were married, and 73.8% were employed.

Participants rated their feelings about aging (subjective age and general aging perceptions) and their sex lives (frequency, quality, and interest).

Here’s one of the coolest parts of this research.

The first time they gathered information from the participants was in 1995 and 1996. Then they gathered additional data between 2004 and 2006. Amazing, right? They actually measured the same people as they aged.

Now, let’s get to it…

What Did They Find?

Frequency of Sex: Sex decreased significantly over time (2.5 times over the past six months decreasing to 1.8 times over the past six months). Those with chronic conditions indicated less frequent sex. Subjective age did not predict frequency of sex.

Quality of Sex: Better health predicted better sex. Also, those who indicated a higher subjective age had a lower quality of sex rating and positive attitudes related to aging increased quality of sex ratings.

Interest in Sex: Interest significantly decreased over time (ratings went from 5.7 to 4.7). Married people were more interested while those who felt older were less interested.

Another interesting finding, although not that surprising, those engaged in more sexual activity during the first survey were more engaged for the second survey too.

In my mind, one of the most important things to note is,

These findings add to a growing body of evidence that subjective age can be as strong a predictor of psychological well-being and health-related factors as chronological age.”

The researchers candidly pointed out that when studying the aspects of sexual behavior it is difficult to pinpoint the true variables affecting the person’s experience. For example, even if a person has a positive aging outlook they are influenced by their partner’s stereotypes. The researchers suggest future researchers analyze the partners together.

They also noted one flaw in this study was the lack of definition of “sex.” Without a specific explanation, each person was left to decide what the term implied. 

My Opinions:

I found this study interesting in so many ways. First, I assumed the study was going to be related to older people having sex, like 70s, 80s, and 90s (reminder: the mean age was 53.7 years old).

My expectation is that people in their early fifties still have active sex lives.

I did love the longevity of the study. Going back to survey the same participants is difficult from the perspective of not only confirming the same members are available but also ensuring the research staff is still around and on board with the initial intent of the study.

They didn’t mention if the participants were all heterosexual. I am interested in understanding this topic from all perspectives.

Also, I was quite surprised at the frequency numbers. Participants indicated they were only having sex approximately 1-2 times in a six month period. What? That’s only 2-4 in a whole year (I’m good with math like that!).

I think I’ve figured out why there is so much negativity in the world. People need to have more sex!

Finally, I agree with the researchers’ thoughts on future research. Understanding the person’s partner and overall relationship status may play a greater role in sexual activity than anything else. If a participant is in an unhappy marriage then their aging or sexuality attitudes most likely have little to do with their sexual activity. However, if the person is a widow/er or divorced and happens to be in a brand new relationship, they are probably having quite a bit more sex regardless of aging or sexuality thoughts.

Your Opinions:

I’d LOVE to hear what you think.

Did you like the study?

Did you find it as exciting as this one or this one or this one or maybe this one?

Let me know what you think in the comments below!


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