S5.6 Attitudes to sex and the role of new intimate relations in later-life: results from England & Sweden
Chair: David Lee
There are important age-related differences in sexual experiences, but how these reflect relative differences in functioning or attitudes remains unclear. Interrelationships between older people’s attitudes and beliefs about sex versus their sexual activities and satisfaction have not been systematically investigated. Research using both quantitative and qualitative approaches will enhance our understanding of how internalised beliefs about sexuality influence sexual experiences, and uncover the meanings people assign to sexuality in later-life, and how they make choices about their sexual lives. This symposium presents quantitative and qualitative findings from studies carried out in England and Sweden since 2010. The topics included in the individual abstracts will cover: (i) how personal attitudes to sex and sexuality associates with sexual expression, both at the level of the individual and within a partnership (dyad); (ii) how older people’s attitudes to new intimate relationships, and expectations and experiences of these relationships, impact on their wellbeing and quality-of-life. Implications for practice will be discussed, and how care and support for older people can better incorporate the role of sex and intimacy.
S5.6.1 Older people’s personal attitudes to sex: interrelationships with sexual health and
Manchester Metropolitan University, UK
Background. Little is known about how later-life sexuality interrelates with older people’s personal attitudes to sex. The objective was to examine the associations between sexual activities, functioning, concerns and satisfaction, and four principal components describing attitudes to sex among a representative sample of older people. Methods. The analysis sample consisted of 5920 community-dwelling men and women (two thirds of whom were in couples where both partners provided data) aged 50 to >90 years who completed a sexual relationships and activities questionnaire as part of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA). Participants were asked about sexual activities, problems and satisfaction with questions on beliefs and attitudes to sex covering topics such as sex outside marriage, sex in the media, importance of sex to relationships and gender differences in sex drive. Associations between sexual health and personal attitudes were examined using logistic regression models. Results. Principle components analysis revealed four latent attitudinal factors reflecting ‘judgements’, ‘benefits’, ‘pressures’ and ‘gender and age difference’. Significant predictors of sexual attitudes included gender, education, religiosity, marital status and sexual history, indicating that more than age is important. Patterns of association between attitudes and sexual health were broadly similar in men and women, with more conservative attitudes to ‘judgements’, ‘pressures’ and ‘gender and age difference’ independently associated with poorer sexual health and lower levels of satisfaction. Within dyads, the male partner’s attitudes to sex tended to have the strongest associations with both partners’ sexual health outcomes. Conclusions. Attitudes to sex remained independently associated with sexual health after accounting for health, lifestyle and relationship factors. Implications to influence sexual health and wellbeing by affecting attitudes and beliefs will be discussed.
S5.6.2 How do attitudes and beliefs impact on the sexual relationships and activities of
older couples in England?: A qualitative analysis
Manchester Metropolitan University, UK
Background. Research that explores sexual relations in the context of a coupled relationship has largely failed to take account of the social and cultural influences that may impact on the sexual activities and relationships of older people. We used a unique qualitative data resource to explore how personal attitudes to sex impact on individual and coupled later-life sexual experiences. Methods. Qualitative data were obtained from the sexual relationships and activities questionnaire (SRA-Q) included in wave 6 of the English Longitudinal Survey of Ageing (ELSA). At the end of the SRA-Q there was a free text box and participants were invited to provide any additional comments they wished. Template Analysis was used to identify themes, offering a pragmatic approach for analysing these textual data. Results. Of the 7079 men and women who completed the main ELSA SRA-Q, 1084 respondents provided additional narrative remarks in the open text box. Attitudes to, and beliefs about, sex were affected by issues such as: religious beliefs, personal perceptions, views on ageing, relationships and views on media, culture and pornography. Conclusions. These qualitative findings show that social and cultural dimensions of ageing (over and above physiological changes) influence women's and men's sexual attitudes and experiences. These findings are important as they highlight how older people’s sexual health and difficulties cannot be solely explained as physiological, but interplay with their personal attitudes and beliefs.
S5.6.3 Sex in an ideology of love – sexual experiences among older Swedes in new
Stockholm University, Sweden
Background. With the advent of pharmaceutical aids sexual activity has increasingly become part of the narrative of successful ageing. Still research on the sexual lives of older people has tended to forget the voices of older people themselves. This paper focuses on the role and meaning given to sex by older Swedes in new later-life relationships. Methods. Qualitative interviews with 28 persons, 63–91 years, who have established a new intimate cross-gender relationship aged 60+ or who are currently dating singles. Interviews were analysed through analytic induction. Results. Sexual attraction was seen as a central part of new later-life relationships, but good sex was framed in an ideology of love: Casual sexual adventures were frowned on; the sexuality of adolescents was contrasted to the more healthy sexuality of older people; older women described the sexuality of older men as less emotion oriented than their own, but older men themselves subscribed to the same ideology of love as women. Two stories were common: 1) Sexual interest and activity had been rekindled in the new relationship which was often seen as sexually better than previous relationships, 2) The sexual repertoire was to a large extent dictated by male sexual abilities and changed with declining erectile function. Conclusions. The results will be related to the transformation of intimacy. This transformation was visible in the increased appreciation of sexual self-realisation and the unimportance of marriage for having a sexual relationship. Still sex remained framed in an ideology of love.
S5.6.4 Sexual attitudes and experiences among older Swedes
University of Gävle, Sweden
Background. The “age of Viagra” has created new expectations on an active sex life well into old age. However, until recently the sex life of older people has been rather invisible in family and gerontological research. The purpose of this paper is to study older Swedes’ attitudes to and experiences of sex and sexual activity. Methods. Results are based on a survey of 60–90 year old Swedes (n=1225; response rate 42%) focusing on intimate relationships in later-life, a section of which was devoted to sexuality. Questions probed sexual experiences over the life course, attitudes to sex and present sexual activity. Associations between background variables and sexual activities, attitudes and satisfaction were examined. Results. Despite strict societal values nine in ten had their sexual debut before marriage, even if a minority married the person they debuted with. Sexual activity was not restricted to marriage: more than half had had 4 or more sexual partners over the life course. For a vast majority sex was important for a good relationship, more so for men than women, and more for young-old than old-old. Generally, the importance of sex decreased over the life course. Sexual activity in later-life was better predicted by the length of the present relationship than by chronological age. Conclusions. Even though our results show that sexual activity becomes less important with age, for a majority it remains a central part of what a relationship should offer in later-life.