Many shades of grey: New study shows older Australians want quality not quantity when it comes to sex

Published: Wednesday 16th November 2016

New research from the Institute for Health and Ageing at ACU has found that while many older Australians still consider sexual urges and intercourse to be important, the desire for more affectionate contact becomes more prominent over time.

The Older Adult Sexuality and Intimacy Study (OASIS) asked heterosexual Australians ranging in age from 51 to 89 to rank over 70 sexually-charged statements in an effort to explore how older Australians expressed sexuality, and how their sexual experiences had changed over time.

Chief researcher, Ashley Macleod said conventional ideas of sexuality fail to encompass the full spectrum of sexual acts, and underestimate the activity of this demographic.

“Being ‘sexually active’ is so commonly associated with intercourse frequency, and sexual prowess, however our research shows that it’s much more. The fact of the matter is that, contrary to stereotype, older people aren’t asexual beings. In fact, they’re participating in sexual activity regularly – just in broader and more emotionally-stimulating ways,” said Ms Macleod.

The research is challenging many traditional perceptions of older Australian’s sexuality – demonstrating the importance of intimacy in this age group.

“The research shows that older Australians have an increasing desire for affectionate and intimate sexual behaviours, such as hugging, kissing and touching, with a trusted partner who respects them,” said Ms Macleod.

“This means that traditional remedies for sexual dysfunction – such as Viagra – may not be appropriate for all older people, some of whom may be better off being referred to a relationship counsellor for support. The research indicates that it really is hugs – not drugs – that many older Australians want and need.”

Ms Macleod said a measurement scale for sexuality in mid and later life, developed from the three phases of the OASIS project, will be used to help effect change across medical, social and policy areas, which could potentially improve the quality of life for all older Australians.

“Sexuality and intimacy play a significant role throughout the entire lifespan of humans, and yet our existing knowledge is based on research that looks almost solely at the sexuality of adults during their reproductive years.

“Considering Australia’s ageing population – and the significant contribution sexuality has towards a person’s mental and physical health, interpersonal relationships, and identity – it is more important than ever that society understands how sexuality manifests in its older demographic, and has mechanisms in place that appropriately respond to this need.”

Heterosexual adults 45 years and over are encouraged to participate in the second stage of the study, with registrations for the online survey open from now until January.

To register online, visit www.acu.edu.au/oasis or request a pre-paid questionnaire by post by contacting Ashley MacLeod at Ashley.Macleod@acu.edu.au or 03 9230 8103.

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