A new study of older women finds that successful aging and a positive quality of life are linked to sexual satisfaction.
Researchers at the Stein Institute for Research on Aging at the University of California, San Diego discovered successful aging, quality of life and sexual satisfaction continue to be interrelated even as the physical health of women declines between the ages of 60 and 89.
The report is published online in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society.
Researchers reviewed self-reported information from 1,235 women enrolled at the San Diego site of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) study.
The WHI is a major ongoing research program funded by the National Institutes of Health which, since 1993, has addressed causes of death, disability and quality of life in more than 160,000 generally healthy, post-menopausal women.
As expected, sexual activity and functioning (such things as desire, arousal and ability to climax) declined as a woman aged, as did reported physical and mental health.
However, in contrast to sexual activity and functioning, satisfaction with overall sex life was not significantly different between the three age cohorts studied: age 60 to 69; 70 to 70; and 80 to 89.
Approximately 67 percent, 60 percent, and 61 percent of women in these three age groups, respectively, reported that they were “moderately” to “very satisfied” with their sex lives.
This surprised researchers who surmised that sexual satisfaction would decline with age.
“Contrary to our earlier hypothesis, sexual satisfaction was not significantly associated with age,” said Wesley K. Thompson, Ph.D.
“Although the levels of sexual activity and functioning did vary significantly, depending on the woman’s age, their perceived quality of life, successful aging and sexual satisfaction remained positive.”
Sexual activity was significantly lower in older age cohorts. Of the women who were married or in an intimate relationship, 70 percent of those aged 60 to 69, 57 percent of those aged 70 to 79, and 31 percent of those aged 80 to 89 reported having had some sexual activity in the previous six months.
Marriage or living in an intimate relationship was associated with higher rates of sexual activity than for those not in a relationship. However, sexual activity decreased for all women as age advanced.
According to the researchers, the results confirm earlier findings that suggest self-rated health varies little with age even when objective health indicators show age-associated decline.
“What this study tells us is that many older adults retain their ability to enjoy sex well into old age,” said Thompson.
“This is especially true of older adults who maintain a higher level of physical and mental health as they grow older. Furthermore, feeling satisfied with your sex life – whatever your levels of sexual activity – is closely related to your perceived quality of life.”
He added that “while we cannot assess cause and effect from this study, these results suggest that maintaining a high level of sexual satisfaction may positively reinforce other psychological aspects of successful aging.”