Sex over the age of 50 important for wellbeing

Study finds 59% of over-50s sexually active
  • Deborah Condon

Almost 60% of Irish adults over the age of 50 are sexually active and those who are tend to have more positive perceptions of ageing, a new study has revealed.

According to the findings, 59% of those over the age of 50 are considered sexually active, i.e. they have had sex in the last 12 months. Among these, 33% are sexually active once or twice a week, while 36% are sexually active once or twice a month.

The research was released by The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) at Trinity College Dublin - an ongoing study involving over 8,000 adults over the age of 50.

It found that sexual activity tended to decline with age, with 75% of those aged 50-64 sexually active compared with 23% of those aged 75. However at all ages, men reported more sexual activity than women.

Furthermore, women's sexual activity tended to decline more rapidly with age than men's. The researchers suggested this may partly be due to the fact that women are more likely than men to be widowed at an older age.

Men were also more likely to attribute importance to sex, with 80% stating that it is at least somewhat important compared to 56% of women.

Meanwhile, the study also noted that people over the age of 50 were much more likely to be sexually active if they were married or living with someone. In fact, 75% of those married or cohabiting were sexually active compared to 34% of those who were single, separated or divorced, and 13% of those who were widowed.

When it came to health and overall wellbeing, sex had an important role to play. Those who were sexually active tended to have more positive perceptions of ageing and were less likely to consider themselves old.

They were also less likely to feel that ageing has negative consequences.

Overall, those who considered themselves to be in better health, and those who did not have long-term conditions, disabilities or depressive symptoms, were more likely to be sexually active.

According to the study's lead author, TILDA researcher, Joanna Orr, these findings show that sex is an important part of life for many people over the age of 50.

"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," she commented.

Also speaking about the research, TILDA principal investigator, Prof Rose Anne Kenny, said that where problems with sexual activity occur, ‘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'.



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