Sex, Psychological & Physical Health, and Marital Quality

Sex, Psychological & Physical Health, and Marital Quality

Regular sexual activity might help older couples manage physical and psychological health problems and keep their relationship strong, research suggests.

Declines in health are common as men and women age. And health problems for either partner can put tremendous stress on a marriage. Partners may see their roles changing. For example, when one becomes a primary caregiver for the other, the dynamic of the relationship can change.

Recently, American scientists examined the ways sexuality and psychological health mesh with physical health and the quality of marriage. (While the authors frequently referred to marriage, their data included unmarried, cohabitating couples as well.)

The researchers obtained data from 732 couples (1,464 people) between the ages of 65 and 74. The couples were participants in the National Social Life Health and Aging Project, a survey of adults living in the United States.

First, the participants gave information about their marital quality, such how close they felt, how happy and emotionally satisfied they were, and how much they got on each other’s nerves. Next, they rated their physical and psychological health as excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor. Finally, the couples told the researchers how often they had sex.

The authors pointed out that sexual activity did not have to mean vaginal intercourse and orgasm. Their definition included any form of intimacy or sexual touching. On average, the couples had sex about once a month.

Overall, the researchers found that greater sexual frequency and better physical health were associated with higher marriage quality. Husbands tended to rate their marriage quality more highly than wives did.

The findings may help professionals who care for older patients. “Clearly, older adults’ access to high-quality health care for both physical and emotional issues is key,” the authors wrote. Healthcare providers should be prepared to make referrals to specialists if necessary and older couples may benefit from relationship education programs, they added.

The study was first published online in January in Journals of Gerontology, Series B.


Journals of Gerontology, Series B

Galinsky, Adena M. and Linda J. Waite

“Sexual Activity and Psychological Health As Mediators of the Relationship Between Physical Health and Marital Quality”

(Full-text. First published online: January 27, 2014)


Raven, Kathleen

“In sickness and health, sex keeps older couples happy: study”

(February 26, 2014)