Government papers have previously failed to acknowledge the romantic and sexual lives and needs of older people. Use research evidence to argue why investing in relationship and sexual health support services for older people would be worthwhile.
There are common misconceptions and negative stereotypes attached to the romantic and sexual lives and needs of older people. Typically, there is evidence in support of healthy relationships and sexual activity in older age. Although long-term relationships are commonly associated with the immediate effects of companionship, marriage among older people has also been shown to have significant benefits in terms of physical, mental, and cognitive health. Similarly, Willert and Semans (2000) suggest that continued sexual interest among older people can also be physically and mentally therapeutic. The government should be concerned with maximising the potential for healthy ageing, minimising the risk of pathological ageing, and the encouragement of relationships and sexual health in older people has the potential to do this.
The physical benefits of marriage include benefits to blood pressure (Steptoe et al., 2000) and to endocrine function (Seeman et al., 1994). These benefits to physical health are arguably the result of offered meaning to one’s life through marriage. This consequently leads to a lower risk of engaging in risky health behaviours (Nomaguchi & Milkie, 2003) while also encouraging healthy behaviour (Schone & Weinick, 1998).
Mental health in older people is also benefitted by the effects of marriage with results showing positive effects on life satisfaction and well-being (Antonucci et al., 2003). Marital satisfaction can protect against the negative effects disagreements, including symptoms of depression (Bookwala & Jacobs, 2004). Studies have found that couples with low levels of marital functioning have twice as many moderate to severe symptoms of depression and anxiety compared to those with good marital functioning (Trude et al., 2008). Evidence suggests that a low risk of depression in one spouse is likely to predict a low risk of depression in the other, and a high level of marital satisfaction can result in a low risk of depression. Older married couples have had the opportunity to work through conflicts together, learning to adapt to changing circumstances, and understanding one another’s strengths and weaknesses. As a result, spouses have the potential to offer a positive impact during their partner’s times of crises by “immunising themselves against stresses inevitable in older age” (Tower & Kasl, 1996, p.695). All of these mental health benefits have the potential to contribute to healthy ageing.
Healthy sexual activity among older adults has also shown positive results towards mental health. Sex is strongly associated with psychological well-being (Spector & Frememth, 1996) and typically older people who have a partner with whom they can enjoy intimacy with are in a better state...