Happiness, rather than depression, is associated with sexual behaviour in partnered older adults

Age Ageing. 2017 Jan 19;46(1):101-107. doi: 10.1093/ageing/afw168.


Background: The relation between positive psychological well-being (PPWB) and sexual behaviour is understudied in older adult groups.

Objective: To examine the relation between PPWB (positive affect and life satisfaction) and sexual behaviour (sexual activity and physical tenderness) in older adults, and whether it is independent from depressive symptoms and uniform across older age groups.

Design: Cross-sectional.

Setting: Community-dwelling adults aged 65 years or older, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

Methods: Sexual behaviour, the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale, the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression (CES-D) scale and partner status were assessed in 2,373 dementia-free older adults from the Rotterdam Study.

Results: For partnered participants, greater positive affect and life satisfaction was associated with more sexual activity and physical tenderness. Although CES-D was negatively associated with sexual behaviour within partnered older adults, there was no association between the negative affect sub-scale and sexual behaviour. The relations were independent of depressive symptoms, physical health and chronic disease status and were observed for both sexes at all older ages. For unpartnered participants, greater life satisfaction and was associated with more physical tenderness. There was low prevalence of sexual behaviour in unpartnered participants, limiting further stratification.

Conclusion: Greater PPWB was associated with more sexual behaviour in partnered, community-dwelling older adults. We are the first to demonstrate that sexual behaviour is associated with PPWB, rather than lack of depressive symptoms; and that the association was present at all ages for partnered older adults. Limited conclusions can be drawn for unpartnered older adults as their sexual behaviour was infrequent.

Keywords: depression; happiness; older persons; positive affect; sexual behaviour.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Female
  • Happiness*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Marital Status*
  • Netherlands
  • Personal Satisfaction
  • Quality of Life
  • Sexual Behavior*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires