A new study released by the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing at Trinity College Dublin on Valentine’s day paints a positive picture of the little studied and infrequently discussed sexual lives of older adults in Ireland. The research, which involves more than 8000 adults over the age of 50, has found that frequent sexual activity is the norm with 59% being sexually active and of those, 69% sexually active weekly or monthly.
The researchers found that being sexually active has positive implications for a person’s health and their perception of ageing. They also found differences between men and women in terms of importance attributed to sex and frequency of sexual activity as each gender aged older. The study also paints a picture of strong relationships amongst Ireland’s older adults with a large majority of people reporting that they had a very close relationship with their spouse or partner and living with a spouse or partner being a key determinant in whether someone is sexually active.
The key findings included:
- 59% of adults aged over 50 in Ireland are sexually active (had sex in the past 12 months).
- One third (33%) of sexually active adults were sexually active once or twice a week and more than one third (36%) were sexually active once or twice a month.
- Being sexually active is less likely in older age groups with three quarters (75%) of those aged 50 to 64 being sexually active compared to just under one quarter (23%) of those aged 75 being sexually active.
- Men reported more sexual activity than women at all ages.
- The decline in women’s sexual activity with age was more rapid than that of men. Women are more likely than men to be widowed at older ages which may go some way to explaining this difference for older women.
- In all those aged 50 and over, being sexually active is largely dependent on having a spouse or cohabiting partner. Three quarters (75%) of those who are married or cohabiting report being sexually active in the past year, compared to 34% of single, separated or divorced respondents, and 13% of widowed respondents. This trend is seen across all age groups.
- However, a small proportion (9%) of currently unmarried or non-cohabiting respondents report having a romantic or intimate partner. Of those with a boyfriend or girlfriend, the large majority are sexually active (88%).
- A higher proportion of men attribute importance to sex than women with 80% of men reporting that sex is at least somewhat important in their lives compared to 56% of women.
- The majority of those studied reported that their relationship with their spouse or partner is very close (72% of men and 63% of women). Reporting a very close relationship is associated with higher frequency of sexual activity.
- Health and well being
- Sexually active adults tend to be more positive in their perceptions of ageing. They are less likely to consider themselves old and less likely to believe that ageing has negative consequences.
- Sexual activity is related to health; those who consider themselves to be in better health are more likely to be sexually active, as well as those without long term conditions or disabilities, and those with fewer depressive symptoms.
Lead author of the report Joanna Orr, TILDA researcher said: “Our research shows that sexual activity is an important part of life for many of those aged 50 and over in Ireland, including significant proportions of those in their 60s, 70s and beyond. Continued research into this area is not only important for understanding the links between sex and health and happiness, but also to dispel the myth that sexual activity is incompatible with advancing age. It is important that health and social care professionals working with older populations are capable of respecting this aspect of individuals’ lives, and take this into consideration when giving advice and making decisions regarding their wellbeing.”
Professor Rose Anne Kenny, Principal Investigator of TILDA said: The data concurs with international data and emphasizes the contribution of sexual activity to quality of life and good physical and mental health. Where difficulties with sexual activity are present, effective treatments are available and we anticipate that the new data will reinvigorate GPs and healthcare professionals to enquire about patients’ sexual activity as part of routine clinical assessment and care.”
The full report is available at www.tilda.ie