Health status, sexual activity and satisfaction among older people in Britain: a mixed methods study

Erens, B., Mitchell, K. R. , Gibson, L., Datta, J., Lewis, R. , Field, N. and Wellings, K. (2019) Health status, sexual activity and satisfaction among older people in Britain: a mixed methods study. PLoS ONE, 14(3), e0213835. (doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0213835) (PMID:30917152) (PMCID:PMC6436725)

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Background: Men and women are increasingly likely to stay sexually active into later life, but research shows that sexual activity and satisfaction decrease with increasing age. Ill health and medical treatments may affect sexual activity but there is little research on why some older people with a health problem affecting their sexual activity are satisfied with their sex life, and others are not. Methods: A mixed method study integrating data and analyses from the third British National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (n = 3343 aged 55–74 years) and from follow-up in-depth interviews with 23 survey participants who reported having a health condition or taking medication affecting their sex life. Results: Overall, 26.9% of men and 17.1% of women aged 55–74 reported having a health condition that affected their sex life. Among this group, women were less likely than men to be sexually active in the previous 6 months (54.3% vs 62.0%) but just as likely to be satisfied with their sex life (41.9% vs 42.1%). In follow-up interviews, participants sometimes struggled to tease out the effects of ill health from those of advancing age. Where effects of ill health were identified, they tended to operate through the inclination and capacity to be sexually active, the practical possibilities for doing so and the limits placed on forms of sexual expression. In close relationships partners worked to establish compensatory mechanisms, but in less close relationships ill health provided an excuse to stop sex or deterred attempts to resolve difficulties. Most fundamentally, ill health may influence whether individuals have a partner with whom to have sex. Conclusion: The data show complex interactions between health, lifestyle and relationship factors that affect sexual activity/satisfaction. When dealing with sexual problems in older people, practitioners need to take account of individual lifestyle, needs and preferences.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Mitchell, Professor Kirstin and Lewis, Dr Ruth
Creator Roles:
Mitchell, K. R.Conceptualization, Formal analysis, Funding acquisition, Methodology, Writing – original draft
Lewis, R.Conceptualization, Formal analysis, Methodology, Writing – review and editing
Authors: Erens, B., Mitchell, K. R., Gibson, L., Datta, J., Lewis, R., Field, N., and Wellings, K.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Health & Wellbeing > MRC/CSO SPHSU
Journal Name:PLoS ONE
Publisher:Public Library of Science
ISSN (Online):1932-6203
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2019 Erens et al.
First Published:First published in PLoS ONE 14(3): e0213835
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons License
Data DOI:10.5255/UKDA-SN-7799-2

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
727631Social Relationships & Health ImprovementLisa McDaidMedical Research Council (MRC)MC_UU_12017/11HW - MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit
727631Social Relationships & Health ImprovementLisa McDaidOffice of the Chief Scientific Adviser (CSO)SPHSU11HW - MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit