Introduction: Despite increasing demand for clinical interventions into sexual problems in an aging population, epidemiological data on the subject are scarce.
Aims: To examine the prevalence of sexual problems across different sociodemographic groups, and risk factors for these problems in multiple domains of life.
Methods: Statistical analysis of data from the 2005-2006 National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP), a nationally representative U.S. probability sample of 1,550 women and 1,455 men aged 57-85 at the time of interview.
Main outcome measures: Likelihood of experiencing sexual dysfunction in the preceding 12 months.
Results: Sexual problems among the elderly are not an inevitable consequence of aging, but instead are responses to the presence of stressors in multiple life domains. This impact may partly be gender differentiated, with older women's sexual health more sensitive to their physical health than is true for men. The mechanism linking life stress with sexual problems is likely to be poor mental health and relationship dissatisfaction. The NSHAP results demonstrate the consistent impact of poor mental health on women's reports of sexual problems and the less consistent association with men's problems.
Conclusions: The results point to a need for physicians who are treating older adults experiencing sexual problems to take into account not simply their physical health, but also their psychosocial health and satisfaction with their intimate relationship.