Washington: When it comes to sexual satisfaction among older people, communication, being in a happy relationship and health are important factors, a recent study suggests.
Sexual expression is increasingly recognised as a significant character throughout the life course, in maintaining relationships, promoting self-esteem and contributing to health and well-being.
Although healthcare professionals are being urged to be more proactive in helping older patients achieve a satisfying sex life, there is a distinct lack of evidence to help guide practitioners.
The study looks at how health, lifestyle and relationship factors can affect sexual activity and satisfaction in later life, and examine how people respond and deal with the consequences.
As part of the study, out of nearly 3,500 people aged between 55-74, the survey found that one in four men and one in six women reported having a health problem that affected their sex life. Among this group, women were less likely than men to be sexually active in the previous six months (54 per cent vs 62 per cent) but just as likely to be satisfied with their sex life (42 per cent vs 42 per cent).
Follow up interviews with a sample of participants revealed that older people found it difficult to separate the effects of declining health from those of increasing age. The health impacted sexual activity in many ways but most crucially it influenced whether individuals had a partner with whom to have sex. Some older people were more accepting of not having a sex life than others.
For those in a relationship, sexual satisfaction was strongly associated with both the quality of communication with their partner and contentment with their relationship. The impact of health issues was not always negative; some men and women found themselves having to experiment with new ways of being sexually active and their sex lives improved as a result.
“Looking at the impact of health on sexual activity and satisfaction as we age is important, however, few studies have examined the relationship between the two. Health can affect an individual's sex life in various ways, from having or finding a partner, to physical and psychological limitations on sexual expression,” said Bob Erens, lead author of the study published in the Journal of PLOS ONE.
"We identified that not many people who reported experiencing problems or lack of satisfaction sought help. Although this could be an individual choice or because of a perceived lack of support, it is vital that individuals feel able to make enquiries with health care professionals. In particular, discussing problems can often lead to an identification of underlying medical conditions,” Erens explained.
Although some individuals the research team spoke to were not affected by not being sexually active, it seemed to be important that health professionals make sensitive inquiries for patients who might want to access help, which can lead to significant improvements in their well-being and quality of life.
“We're seeing numerous, interconnected factors influencing sexual activity in older people. Not being in good health can influence mood, mobility and whether a person has a partner, which in turn impact on sexual activity. Medication taken for health conditions often compounds the problem.
The study findings suggest that pharmacological approaches, like Viagra, do not always help to resolve sexual difficulties, which need to be seen in the wider context of older people's lives,” asserted Kirstin Mitchel’, co-author of the study.