JOURNAL ARTICLE

Factors affecting sexuality in older Australian women: sexual interest, sexual arousal, relationships and sexual distress in older Australian women

J R Howard, S O'Neill, C Travers
Climacteric: the Journal of the International Menopause Society 2006, 9 (5): 355-67
17000584

OBJECTIVE: To investigate the sexual behavior, sexual relationships, sexual satisfaction, sexual dysfunction and sexual distress in a population of older urban Australian women.

METHOD: In 2004, 474 women participating in the Longitudinal Assessment of Ageing in Women (LAW) Study completed a series of questionnaires about sexuality. They included the Short Personal Experiences Questionnaire (SPEQ), Relationship Assessment Scale (RAS), Female Sexual Distress Scale (FSDS), questions concerning past sexual abuse based on the Sex in Australia Study, and questions comparing present and past sexual interest and activity.

RESULTS: The percentage of women with partners ranged from 83.3% in the 40 - 49-year age group to 46.4% women in the 70 - 79-year age group. The sexual ability of partners diminished markedly with age, with only 4.8% of the partners using medication to enable erections. Only 2.5% of women reported low relationship satisfaction. The incidence of sexual distress was also low, being reported by only 5.7% of women. Younger women and women with partners had higher levels of distress than older women. Indifference to sexual frequency rose from 26.7% in women aged 40 - 49 years to 72.3% in the 70 - 79-year age group. Past sexual abuse was recalled by 22.7% of women and 11.6% recalled multiple episodes of abuse. Women who recalled abuse had lower scores for satisfaction with sexual frequency.

CONCLUSIONS: It appears from this study that there is a wide range of sexual experience amongst aging women, from never having had a sexual partner, to having solitary sex, to having a relationship with or without sex into the seventh decade. As women age, they experience a decrease in sexual activity, interest in sex, and distress about sex. This may be associated with the loss of intimate relationships as part of separation, divorce or bereavement. Decreased sexual activity with aging may be interpreted as a biological phenomenon (part of the aging process) or as sexual dysfunction, or it may be the result of adapting to changed circumstances.

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