Positive perceptions of aging can benefit sexual satisfaction among older adults, a new study shows.
“There’s really robust and quickly growing literature about perceptions of aging,” says Hanamori Skoblow, the lead author of the study published in The Gerontologist. “We know positive perceptions of aging can be really beneficial, but when they are negative, they can be really detrimental.
“Negative perceptions of aging are linked to higher likelihood of cognitive decline, higher likelihood of cardiovascular disease, and even shorter lifespans. We wanted to see how it would affect people’s sexual relationships. As expected, thinking positively about the way you age can also lead to a healthy sex life.”
Skoblow believes that the information can be used to help inform doctors that work with older adults. She says that physicians, who are often reluctant to discuss sexual issues with older patients, are reinforcing ageist beliefs that sexual activity is only for young adults. She also believes that sex therapists could see better results by promoting positive perceptions of aging.
As a doctoral student in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Missouri, Skoblow used a well-established database containing information gathered from adults over age 50 who were either married or living with a partner and had completed a questionnaire related to their perceptions of social constructs and sexuality.
The data allowed Skoblow to compare the participants’ perception of aging to their sexual satisfaction within their relationship.
“We found this relationship to be strong with both men and women,” Skoblow says. “With data from more than 1,100 couples, we were able to find that participants with a more positive perception of aging also had sex more frequently as well as increased satisfaction.”
For the study, the researchers asked participants to strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree with statements such as “with age comes physical decline.” Skoblow would then average a participant’s answers into a single scale, meaning the higher the score, the more positive the participant felt about aging and compared that to the person’s responses to questions about sexual frequency and satisfaction.
There are several possible reasons why perceptions of aging can impact a person’s sex life, Skoblow says.
“It’s possible that if people expect a steep physical decline as an inevitable part of aging, they could have anticipatory inhibitions. They stop enjoying themselves in the moment and could have less satisfying sexual encounters,” Skoblow says.
“We also know that western cultures often have many youthful beauty ideals, so maybe people with more positive perceptions of aging don’t buy into them as much, leading to a more satisfying sex life as their body begins to change.”
Skoblow says this research is just the beginning. She’d also like to study how negative perceptions of aging are formed and how those views affect a person’s well-being.
Source: University of Missouri