Date:

Older adults who value sexual activity, and engage in it, have better social and psychological well-being, according to a study based at Heriot-Watt.

Study co-author Taylor-Jane Flynn, who undertook the research as part of her undergraduate dissertation, became aware of the potential importance of sexual relationships for older adults while working as a Health Care Assistant. In her work, Taylor heard older adults say that they ‘miss and want to engage in sexual behaviours, whether that be a kiss to intercourse. For many, these behaviours remained an important element in their life.’ She decided to turn this anecdotal experience into the topic for her dissertation research.

“What we hope is that our current findings encourage other researchers interested in the determinants of health and well-being in older adults to also consider sexual behaviours,”
Alan Gow

Flynn and Alan Gow, Associate Professor of Psychology at Heriot-Watt, wrote in the journal Age and Ageing that although quality of life is a key consideration for older adults, sexuality is rarely studied as a possible contributor to this.

About half the participants, all aged 65 and over, lived with a spouse or partner and responded to questions on how often in the last six months they had engaged in six sexual behaviours: touching/holding hands, embracing/hugging, kissing, mutual stroking, masturbation and intercourse. The participants also rated how important those behaviours are to them. The questionnaires also assessed participants’ quality of life based on physical health, psychological health, social relationships and environment.

Future research

Participants reporting more frequent sexual behaviour rated their social relationships as higher quality, while people who found sexual activity to be important had higher scores for psychological quality of life. Overall, however, health status had the strongest impact on all aspects of quality of life.

Alan Gow said that while the current study only looked at associations and cannot determine whether sexuality raises quality of life, he hopes that future research will focus more on this subject. “What we hope is that our current findings encourage other researchers interested in the determinants of health and well-being in older adults to also consider sexual behaviours,”