Sexual activity, sexual thoughts, and intimacy among older adults: links with physical health and psychosocial resources for successful aging
Psychology and Aging, 34:3, 389–404 (2019)
Research on close relationships in later life has received increased attention over the past decade. However, little is known about sexuality and intimacy in old age. Using cross-sectional data from the Berlin Aging Study II (BASE-II; Mage = 68 years, SD = 3.68; 50% women; N = 1,514), we examine age differences in behavioral (sexual activity), cognitive (sexual thoughts), and emotional (intimacy) facets of sexuality and investigate associations with physical health and psychosocial resources for successful aging. Older age was associated with less sexual activity and fewer sexual thoughts, but not with differences in intimacy. Relative to a reference sample of 22- to 36-year-olds within BASE-II (N = 475), the average older adult reported considerably fewer sexual activity and thoughts (ds > .60), but only slightly lower intimacy (d = .20). Substantial heterogeneity existed among older adults, with almost one third of the 60- to 82-year-olds reporting more sexual activity and thoughts than the average younger adult. Examining correlates of sexuality among older adults revealed that, covarying for diagnosed illnesses and performance-based grip strength, psychosocial factors (e.g., partnered, relationship satisfaction) accounted for considerable shares of variance in sexual activity and intimacy, whereas age and gender explained more of the variance in sexual thoughts. Some psychosocial factors exhibited similar-sized associations with all sexuality facets, whereas other factors operated in more facet-specific ways. To illustrate, participants reporting more loneliness also reported less sexual activity and less intimacy, but not fewer sexual thoughts. We discuss implications of our findings for theories of successful aging.