Sexuality: A (hot) topic for young and old

Study examines sexual activity, sexual thoughts and intimacy in old age

May 14, 2019

Exciting new findings from the Berlin Aging Study II: Many older adults are sexually active, have sexual thoughts, and experience feelings of intimacy. The study was conducted by several German research institutions, including the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, and the Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP), and examined three facets of sexuality among 60- to 80-year-olds: Sexual activity, sexual thoughts, and intimacy. The findings presented here have just been published in the research journal Psychology and Aging.

As expected, older adults are on average much less sexually active and have less sexual thoughts than younger people. However, younger and older adults seem not to differ much when it comes to experiencing intimacy or a sense of security.

Interestingly, psychosocial factors, such as having a satisfying relationship, explained differences in sexuality between older study participants better than being physically healthier. “The role of psychological and interpersonal factors for a fulfilling sex life at old age has long been underestimated. However, these factors may be crucial for maintaining sex life, as long as health problems do not stand in one’s way”, says Karolina Kolodziejczak from the Department of Psychology at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, the leading author of the study. Although the majority of older adults were less sexually active than young adults, this was not the case for all. Almost one third of the study participants aged 60 to 80 years reported being more sexually active and having more sexual thoughts than the average 20- to 30-year-olds in the study. “Once more, we have seen huge individual differences among older adults. Future research should further investigate these differences and examine, for example, the role sexuality plays for well-being and good health in later life”, explains Prof. Dr. Denis Gerstorf, speaker of BASE-II and co-author of the study.

About the Aging Study II

The paper is based on data from 1,514 adults aged 60 to 82 years and a control sample of 475 adults aged 22 to 36 years, obtained within the interdisciplinary Berlin Aging Study II (BASE-II). In the BASE-II project, psychological, medical, social, and genetic disciplines are involved and researchers from multiple institutions participate, including the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, the Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) at DIW Berlin, the University of Tübingen, and the University of Lübeck. Conjointly they would like to find out what the factors are that help people age in active and healthy ways. The BASE-II is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

Further information


Kolodziejczak, K., Rosada, A., Drewelies, J., Düzel, S., Eibich, P., Tegeler, C., … Gerstorf, D. (2019). Sexual activity, sexual thoughts, and intimacy among older adults: Links with physical health and psychosocial resources for successful aging. Psychology and Aging, 34(3), 389–404. doi: .

Original press information: (German) (German)

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