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PLoS One. 2019 Mar 27;14(3):e0213835. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0213835. eCollection 2019.

Health status, sexual activity and satisfaction among older people in Britain: A mixed methods study.

Author information

Department of Health Services Research and Policy, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, United Kingdom.
MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, Institute of Health and Wellbeing, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, United Kingdom.
Department of Public Health, Environments and Society, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, United Kingdom.
Institute for Global Health, University College London, London, United Kingdom.



Men and women are increasingly likely to stay sexually active into later life, but research shows that sexual activity and satisfaction decrease with increasing age. Ill health and medical treatments may affect sexual activity but there is little research on why some older people with a health problem affecting their sexual activity are satisfied with their sex life, and others are not.


A mixed method study integrating data and analyses from the third British National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (n = 3343 aged 55-74 years) and from follow-up in-depth interviews with 23 survey participants who reported having a health condition or taking medication affecting their sex life.


Overall, 26.9% of men and 17.1% of women aged 55-74 reported having a health condition that affected their sex life. Among this group, women were less likely than men to be sexually active in the previous 6 months (54.3% vs 62.0%) but just as likely to be satisfied with their sex life (41.9% vs 42.1%). In follow-up interviews, participants sometimes struggled to tease out the effects of ill health from those of advancing age. Where effects of ill health were identified, they tended to operate through the inclination and capacity to be sexually active, the practical possibilities for doing so and the limits placed on forms of sexual expression. In close relationships partners worked to establish compensatory mechanisms, but in less close relationships ill health provided an excuse to stop sex or deterred attempts to resolve difficulties. Most fundamentally, ill health may influence whether individuals have a partner with whom to have sex.


The data show complex interactions between health, lifestyle and relationship factors that affect sexual activity/satisfaction. When dealing with sexual problems in older people, practitioners need to take account of individual lifestyle, needs and preferences.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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