Sexual health and function in later life: a population-based study of 606 older adults with a partner

Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2015 Mar;23(3):227-33. doi: 10.1016/j.jagp.2014.03.006. Epub 2014 Mar 19.


Background: Sexual health and function is an important yet understudied aspect of overall health and well-being in older adults. There are limited data on the relative strength of associations between various aspects of sexual health with the physical, emotional, and cognitive function in older adults. Additionally, there is little information on how these associations differ by age and sex.

Methods: In this Successful Aging Evaluation (SAGE) study, 606 community-dwelling adults in San Diego County, aged 50-99 years and who had a partner, were included in the analysis. Evaluations included a phone-based cognitive screening followed by a comprehensive mail-in survey including rating scales of sexual health, depression, anxiety, and physical function.

Results: The mean age of the sample was 75.2 years. Over 80% of respondents had engaged in sexual activity in the past year, over 70% engaged in sexual activity weekly or more than once a week, and over 60% were somewhat or very satisfied with their sex lives. No sex differences were evident on dimensions of sexual health except for a higher rate of rejection of sexual overtures by women. Depressive symptoms were negatively associated with all assessed aspects of sexual health, even after adjusting for age, physical functioning, anxiety, cognitive ability, or perceived stress in both men and women.

Conclusions: In this population-based study older men and women who had a partner reported frequent engagement in and satisfaction with sexual activity. Depressive symptoms were broadly associated with worse sexual health, more so than physical function, anxiety or stress, or age itself.

Keywords: Aging; anxiety; cognition; physical functioning; sexuality depression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Anxiety / epidemiology*
  • California / epidemiology
  • Cognition
  • Depression / epidemiology*
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sex Factors
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Sexual Behavior / statistics & numerical data
  • Sexual Partners / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology*