Is sexual intimacy among older adults positively associated with mental well-being?

Hina Budhwani, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Background. The elderly population aged 60 and above is increasing rapidly throughout the world. The aging process affects physical health of individuals, which in turn affects sexuality and sexual activity. However, many elderly adults continue to engage in one or more forms of sexual activities well into their 70s, 80s, and even in 90s. Despite the widespread stereotypes, misconceptions, and negative attitudes surrounding sexuality in elderly adults, it has been found to be an important aspect of the health of the elderly. However, association between the frequency of sexual activity and mental well being among older adults has not been documented in the literature. Methods. To test the hypotheses that mental well being indicators such as depression, anxiety, and stress were inversely associated with greater frequency of sexual intimacy, a secondary data analysis was conducted using the National Social Life Health and Aging Project (NSHAP) using multivariate logistic regression. The NSHAP was a population-based study that was conducted on a national scale including 1455 men and 1550 women aged 57-85. Results. Approximately 1430 (54.1%) of the total population reported being sexually intimate in the past 12 months whereas 1481 (45.9%) participants reported that they did not perform any sexual activity in the past 12 months. In addition, approximately 895(31.1%) participants reported engaging in sexual activity ≥ 2-3 times per month with 665 (78.9%) of these participants reported performing vaginal intercourse only, 14(2.0%) oral sex only, and 89(10.5%) reported performing both vaginal intercourse and oral sex. Controlling for socio-demographic characteristics, frequently (≥2-3 times per month) sexually active participants showed lower odds ratio of depression (OR= 0.60; 95%CI = 0.46, 0.78), anxiety (OR= 0.67; 95% CI= 0.53, 0.86), and stress (OR=0.73; 95% CI = 0.6, 0.88) compared to those who had less frequent sexual activity or who had no sexual activity in the past 12 months. Conclusion. Lower levels of depression, anxiety, and stress appear to be associated with greater frequency of sexual activity. Public health interventions should focus on educating elderly adults about their sexual health and how to seek medical help for their sexual problems. Public health professionals should also be educated on how to best assess sexual needs of the elderly adults.

Subject Area

Aging|Public Health Education

Recommended Citation

Budhwani, Hina, "Is sexual intimacy among older adults positively associated with mental well-being?" (2010). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI1474769.