The study also found that people who remain in their first marriages have sex more frequently than those who remarry. But frequency aside, marriage order made no difference when it came to actual physical pleasure and emotional satisfaction, said researchers from Louisiana State University, Florida State University and Baylor University.
Their study — “Marital Characteristics and the Sexual Relationships of U.S. Older Adults: An Analysis of National Social Life, Health and Aging Project Data” — is published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, the official publication of the International Academy of Sex Research.
Researchers analyzed the relationship between marital characteristics and sexual outcomes among 1,656 married adults ages 57-85, using data from the first wave of the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project. They noted that people who survive until their 50th year of marriage — among whom the slight rebound occurred — are relatively few in number.
“Additionally, the study used a snapshot in time — and therefore cannot prove that length and order of marriage caused sexual frequency,” said former Baylor researcher Samuel Stroope, Ph.D., now an assistant professor of sociology at Louisiana State University. “Nevertheless, the study provided intriguing results for an age group whose sexual behavior has rarely been studied.”
One uncertainty that could be the subject of future research is the “why” of the findings. While sex becomes less of a novelty over time and frequency tends to diminish, “it may be that the permanency of the relationship contributes to sexual relations picking up a bit at the end,” Stroope said.
“Growing old as a couple, with the experience and knowledge that come with that, may play a part,” he said.
With a longer relationship, “you are able to learn about your partner and build on that over time,” Stroope said. “You may have a higher level of trust when you feel that your spouse isn’t going to go anywhere. The expectation that the relationship will continue may give you more reason to invest in the relationship — including in sexual aspects of the relationship.”
As to why the “remarrieds” have less frequent sex than those in first marriages, “it may be that those who have been married in the past may not have as strong of a sense of permanence or lasting investment,” Stroope said.
Michael McFarland, Ph.D., assistant professor of sociology and public health at Florida State University, was a study co-author. Researcher Jeremy Uecker, Ph.D., an assistant professor of sociology at Baylor and also a co-author, noted that “we know a great deal about sexual behavior at younger stages of the life course. This study adds to a small but growing body of research on the sexual behavior of older adults.”
Added Stroope: “As people age, they tend to be more even-keeled, which may help cut down on marital conflict and facilitate regular sexual activity into advanced age.”
The findings may surprise some in a society in which youth is the ideal and older adults are often subjected to ageism, researchers say. Despite stereotypes, the study joins other research in revealing that regular sexual activity remains a part of many older adults’ lives — even with declining health and the death of a spouse on the horizon.
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Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having “high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.
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Contact: Terry Goodrich,(254) 710-3321