Older couples who live in Western countries and who enjoy more equality between men and women are most likely to report being satisfied with their sex lives, according to a new study on sexual well-being, aging and health that was conducted in 29 countries by a University of Chicago research team.
In contrast, older people reported less satisfaction with the physical and emotional quality of their sex lives in countries where men have a dominant status over women, such as nations in East Asia, and to a lesser extent, the Middle East, according to the results of the Global Study of Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors.
The study involved surveying about 27,500 people between the ages of 40 and 80, including equal numbers of men and women. The study is the first of its kind to document and compare sexual behavior and related satisfaction among middle-aged and older people worldwide. Across most of the countries surveyed, substantial majorities of people with partners remain sexually active throughout the second half of their lives.
The study found that people reported the greatest sexual satisfaction in four countries, led by Austria, and followed by the United States, Spain and Canada. At the low end of satisfaction were Japan and Taiwan. Countries such as Turkey, Egypt and Algeria were in the middle.
An article on the survey, titled "A Cross-National Study of Subjective Sexual Well-Being Among Older Women and Men: Findings from the Global Study of Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors," is published in the April issue of the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior.
In relationships based on equality, couples tend to develop sexual habits that are more in keeping with both partners' interests, said lead author, Edward Laumann, the George Herbert Meade Distinguished Service Professor in Sociology at the University of Chicago. "Male-centered cultures where sexual behavior is more oriented toward procreation tend to discount the importance of sexual pleasure for women," he said.
The study, which was intended to draw out people's subjective evaluation of the role of sex in their relationships with partners, included questions about how physically or emotionally satisfying their relationships are and how important sex is to them.
They also were asked about their overall happiness; physical and mental health circumstances, including sexual dysfunction; their attitudes toward sex; and their attitudes toward various social and demographic factors, including age, education, income and religious affiliation.
This is the first large-scale international study to include large numbers of respondents from diverse religious traditions, including Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and other Asian religions, and atheists. A particular focus is on the impact of aging, health conditions and socio-cultural context on sexual well-being.
At the beginning of the interview, respondents were asked if they were happy with their lives as a whole. The study found that subjective feelings of sexual well-being are strongly correlated with overall happiness for both men and women across all of the countries studied. Other findings of the study include:
- Across all of the countries studied, there are large gender differences in sexual well-being. On average, men reported at least 10 percentage points to their sexual health and well-being above the percentages that women reported.
- In Western nations, two-thirds of men and women reported their sexual relationships were satisfying, and 80 percent said they were satisfied with their ability to have sex. About half of the men and one third of the women said sex was extremely or very important in their lives.
- In Middle Eastern nations, 50 percent of men and 38 percent of women found their sex lives satisfying. About 70 percent said they were satisfied with their ability to have sex. Sixty percent of men and 37 percent of women said sex is an important part of their overall lives.
- In East Asian countries, only about one quarter of men and women reported physical and emotional pleasure with sex, while two thirds of the men and half of the women reported satisfaction with their ability to have sex. Among men, 28 percent said sex was important to them, while only 12 percent of the women did.