Media Releases

Connection found between low sexual interest and household disorder

May 11, 2017

Toron­to, ON – Old­er part­nered adults are espe­cial­ly like­ly to report low sex­u­al inter­est if they live in a dis­or­der­ly home envi­ron­ment, accord­ing to a new study pub­lished by Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to researchers. Over­all, just over a quar­ter of cohab­it­ing and mar­ried U.S. men aged 62–90 indi­cate that they have lacked sex­u­al inter­est in the past year. The num­ber is clos­er to 40% among men who live in par­tic­u­lar­ly dirty, odor­ous, untidy, noisy, and in poor­ly repaired homes. This asso­ci­a­tion between home envi­ron­ments and sex­u­al inter­est was found after adjust­ing for oth­er estab­lished risks of sex­u­al dys­func­tion, includ­ing chron­ic health con­di­tions, dis­abil­i­ty, men­tal health prob­lems, and low cog­ni­tive capac­i­ty.

“A lot of recent research sug­gests that reg­u­lar sex­u­al expres­sion can improve psy­cho­log­i­cal and phys­i­cal well-being in lat­er life,” said lead author, Markus Schafer, an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of soci­ol­o­gy at Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to. “At the same time, many fac­tors can sup­press the sex­u­al inter­est of either part­ner and become bar­ri­ers to sex­u­al activ­i­ty or sat­is­fac­tion. We were curi­ous as to whether cir­cum­stances in the local envi­ron­ment could damp­en sex­u­al inter­est. Our find­ings sug­gest that it’s impor­tant to put sex into con­text and to con­sid­er how late-life inti­ma­cy can be respon­sive to res­i­den­tial con­di­tions.”

The study was based upon a rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple of 955 het­ero­sex­u­al cou­ples inter­viewed in the 2010 U.S. Nation­al Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP). Each mar­ried or cohab­it­ing cou­ple includ­ed at least one part­ner between the age of 62 and 90. To study house­hold dis­or­der, the authors relied on obser­va­tions made by in-home NSHAP inter­view­ers who eval­u­at­ed mul­ti­ple dimen­sions of the respondent’s house. Schafer and his team com­bined the var­i­ous rat­ings into a sum­ma­ry scale of ‘house­hold dis­or­der’, using scores from the scale to pre­dict both part­ners’ reports of sex­u­al inter­est. The researchers also con­sid­ered mea­sures of ‘neigh­bour­hood disorder’—interviewers’ eval­u­a­tions of whether the cou­ples’ block was dirty, odor­ous, and/or poor­ly-kept. Such block-lev­el con­di­tions, how­ev­er, were not asso­ci­at­ed with sex­u­al inter­est.

Researchers can­not deter­mine exact­ly why house­hold dis­or­der pre­dicts low­er sex­u­al inter­est among old­er men. Results, for instance, failed to show that per­cep­tions of part­ner­ship qual­i­ty played an impor­tant role.  How­ev­er, co-author James Ive­niuk, a post-doc­tor­al researcher at Dal­la Lana School of Pub­lic Health, Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to, sug­gests that ”an unkempt home may be a stres­sor that reduces inter­est in sex, as well as sig­nalling the inap­pro­pri­ate­ness of one’s home as a place for sex­u­al activ­i­ty.”

Co-author and PhD stu­dent, Lau­ra Upe­nieks com­ment­ed, “Our find­ings sug­gest that more nuanced atten­tion be giv­en to the chal­lenges of main­tain­ing home con­di­tions in lat­er life, an espe­cial­ly impor­tant endeav­or since part­nered seniors will be aging in place for longer peri­ods of time than in ear­li­er decades and tend to spend the major­i­ty of time in their own homes. In terms of prac­ti­cal impli­ca­tions, house­holds should be pru­dent points of inter­ven­tion for assist­ing old­er adults, which could spur wide-rang­ing ben­e­fits with­in and beyond the bed­room.”

The paper was pub­lished online this week at The Geron­tol­o­gist.

For more infor­ma­tion:

Markus Schafer
Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor, Depart­ment of Soci­ol­o­gy, Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to