Study shows life enjoyment is linked to intercourse for men, kissing and connection for women.
According to research published online on December 13, 2018, in the journal Sexual Medicine, frequent sexual activity can mean a more enjoyable life for older adults. Both men and women who reported any type of sexual activity in the previous year indicated greater happiness than people who did not. Feeling emotionally close to one’s partner during sex was also correlated with a more positive perspective for both genders.
More Evidence That Intimacy, Connection Are Important for Emotional Health
These results are not surprising, says Pelin Batur, MD, associate professor of medicine in obstetrics and gynecology for the Women’s Health Institute at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, who was not involved in the research. “We know connection and intimacy are important for people throughout all stages of life,” says Dr. Batur. “It is important to remember that people who are healthier are more likely to engage in sexual activity. Therefore, it may be the better state of health which contributes the most to the increased life satisfaction, as opposed to just the sexual activity itself,” she says.
Searching for a Link Between Well-Being and Sexual Trouble
The study set out to investigate possible associations between sexual activity, problems, and concerns, and how those factors might influence well-being in older adults. Researchers looked at 3,045 men and 3,834 women living in England whose ages ranged from 50 to 89, with an average age of 64 for men and 65 for women. 74 percent of the men and 60 percent of the women were married or living with a partner, and 95 percent of the study participants were Caucasian.
Frequent Kissing, Contact, Key for Women’s Well-Being
After allowing for sociodemographic and health-related issues, researchers found that among sexually active men, frequent intercourse as well as frequent kissing, petting, or fondling were associated with greater enjoyment of life. For women, frequent kissing, petting, or fondling was linked to greater life enjoyment, but frequent intercourse was not. Frequent masturbation wasn’t associated with greater life enjoyment for either sex. “Frequent” was defined as two or more episodes a month.
Measuring People’s Enjoyment of Life
Enjoyment of life was assessed with the pleasure subscale of the CASP-19 (control, autonomy, self-realization, and peasure), which has been used in previous research to measure happiness and contentment for older adults. Subjects were asked how much they resonate with statements such as “I enjoy the things that I do,” “I enjoy being in the company of others,” and “I feel full of energy these days.”
Is Sexual Intercourse More Important for Men’s Well-Being Than for Women’s?
“The most interesting finding for us was that among sexually active men, frequent intercourse or kissing, petting, or fondling were associated with greater enjoyment of life,” says Lee Smith, PhD, an epidemiologist with expertise in physical activity and exercise medicine at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, England, and a coauthor of the study. “However, among sexually active women frequent kissing petting or fondling were associated with greater enjoyment of life, but not intercourse,” says Smith. “It therefore appears that sexual intercourse may be more important for men than for women in terms of promoting well-being, whereas women’s enjoyment is more closely linked to other sexual activities.”
Insights Into Future Treatment for Age-Related Sexual Problems
These results could help improve the way that women’s sexual health drugs are developed and measured, says Batur. “In the past, these medications were judged based on how much increased sexual activity resulted from the use of these medications. If there were only one to two additional sexual acts over the course of the month, these medications were considered a failure,” she says.
Considering Desire, Satisfaction, and Future Treatments for Sexual Dysfunction
Studies like this highlight that it is not simply having sex that contributes to fulfillment, says Batur. “Moving forward, medications should look at sexual desire, satisfaction, pain, and other domains of sexuality that are important to women when judging whether potential new medications are helpful. Subjective quality of life benefits for women are probably more important than how often sexual activity occurs after initiation of medication,” says Batur.
The study found that sexual issues, such as difficulty having and maintaining an erection or achieving orgasm, were associated with less life satisfaction. Concerns about lack of desire and frequency of sex also had a negative connection with life enjoyment.
“Health professionals should acknowledge that older adults are not asexual and that a frequent and problem-free sex life in this population is related to better well-being,” said Dr. Smith in a statement. “However, encouragement to try new positions and explore different types of sexual activities is not regularly given to aging populations,” he added.
Making generalizations about either sex is hard to do from the survey results, says Batur. “What we do know is that sexuality is different for each individual and can vary throughout the lifetime for the better or worse, depending on circumstances,” she says. “Each person that we see in the office has their own story of what they are looking for in life and what makes them happy. One key point, on which we can all agree, is that the healthier a person is, the more they are likely to look for fulfilling relationships, including sexual ones,” says Batur.
Promoting overall wellness in later life is a public health priority, said Sarah Jackson, PhD, a senior research associate at the Institute of Epidemiology and Health at University College London in England, and coauthor of the study. “We know that psychological well-being is intricately linked with physical health, and as the population continues to age, the burden on health services increases,” she said in a statement. Encouraging and supporting people to continue to enjoy a healthy sex life in old age could have benefits both for the individual’s health and for the sustainability of health services, said Dr. Jackson.
December 17, 2018