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Perspectives on sexuality among older adults

Sexuality in older adults has rarely been studied in the light of their relationship with their partner, their social support network and biological factors, because researchers did not have sufficient data to do so.

The findings shed new light on the variability of sexual behaviour among older women and men.

The situation has changed thanks to data from the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project. This national probability study was based on interviews with 3,005 adult American men and women between the ages of 57 and 85 (Wave 1, 2005-2006) and between 60 and 69 (Wave 2, 2010-2011).

Aniruddha Das, a sociology researcher at McGill University, was able to observe the impact of social and personal relationships, as well as the hormonal changes that affect sexuality in older adults.

The findings shed new light on the variability of sexual behaviour among older women and men, and the quality of their relationships. In addition, they enabled an in-depth study of the impact of different social factors (such as religious beliefs and sexual contact in childhood) and biological factors (male and female hormones) on sexuality in older adults.

In particular, the researcher noted that childhood sexual contact produced more long term negative effects among women than among men, and that such women were at a higher risk of sexual revictimization and poor mental health.

These findings will contribute to the development of social programs and services, and to a better understanding of how older adults experience their personal relationships. They provide insight into the complexity of the biosocial aspects of sexuality and relationships, thereby helping practitioners to understand and interact with older individuals, couples and their social support networks and facilitating the development of more appropriate services.