Study shows benefits of sex for older adults

Published: 13 December 2018 at 09:50

A couple holding hands

Sexual activity gives both sexes a boost, but intercourse is more important for older men

A new study published in the journal Sexual Medicine indicates that sexual activity is associated with improved wellbeing amongst older adults, measured through higher enjoyment of life scores.

Led by Dr Lee Smith from Anglia Ruskin University and Dr Sarah Jackson from UCL, the study involved analysing survey data from 6,879 older adults, with an average age of 65, living in England.

It found that older men and women who reported any type of sexual activity in the previous 12 months had a higher life enjoyment score than those who were not sexually active.  

For older women, a greater frequency of kissing, petting, and fondling was associated with a higher enjoyment of life, as was feeling emotionally close to their partner during sex.  However, there was not a significant association with sexual intercourse and enjoyment of life amongst older women.  

Amongst older men, however, satisfaction with their sex life and frequency of sexual intercourse was associated with greater enjoyment of life.  The results from the study indicate that sexual intercourse may be more important for older men than women in terms of promoting wellbeing, with women’s enjoyment more closely linked to other sexual activities.

Dr Smith, Reader in Exercise Medicine at Anglia Ruskin University, said:


“Previous research has suggested that frequent sexual intercourse is associated with a range of benefits for psychological and physiological wellbeing, such as improved quality of life and mental health, and lower risk of certain cancers and fatal coronary events.

“Health professionals should acknowledge that older adults are not asexual and that a frequent and problem-free sex life in this population is related to better wellbeing.  However, encouragement to try new positions and explore different types of sexual activities is not regularly given to ageing populations. 

“The findings of our study suggest that it may be beneficial for physicians to query geriatric patients about their sexual activity and offer help for sexual difficulties, such as problems with erections, as sexual activity helps older people live more fulfilling lives.”

Dr Jackson, UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, added:


“Promoting wellbeing in later life is a public health priority. We know that psychological wellbeing is intricately linked with physical health, and as the population continues to age, the burden on health services increases. If encouraging and supporting people to continue to enjoy a healthy sex life in old age could help to boost wellbeing, there may be benefits both for the individual and for the sustainability of health services.”

The data used in the study was collated from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) and the findings are published in the open access journal Sexual Medicine.


Coronavirus research at ARU

We've responded to the coronavirus pandemic by leading research projects into health, wellbeing and interventions. Read more about the work of our Covid-19 Research Group.

Reader in Physical Activity and Public Health at ARU, Dr Lee Smith, has been leading research on COVID-19's impact on behaviour and mental health. Read more about Dr Smith's COVID-19 and wellbeing research group.