UCL News


Study shows benefits of sex for older adults

13 December 2018

Sexual activity gives both sexes a boost, but intercourse is more important for older men, according to a new study from UCL in partnership with Anglia Ruskin University (ARU).

Older couple

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 Sarah Jackson (UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care) and Dr Lee Smith from ARU, the study involved analysing survey data from 6,879 older adults, with an average age of 65, contained in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA).

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 Jackson said: “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.”

Dr Smith, Reader in Exercise Medicine at Anglia Ruskin University, added: “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. 

“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, as sexual activity helps older people live more fulfilling lives.”



Sexual Activity is Associated with Greater Enjoyment of Life in Older Adults, Smith L, Yang L, Veronese N, Soysal P, Stubbs B, Jackson S.


Older couple (Credit: Pixabay)

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Colin Brook

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Email: colin.brook [at] ucl.ac.uk