Sexuality & Culture

, Volume 23, Issue 1, pp 1–25 | Cite as

Attitudes Towards Sexuality in Older Men and Women Across Europe: Similarities, Differences, and Associations with Their Sex Lives

  • Bente TræenEmail author
  • Ana Alexandra Carvalheira
  • Gert Martin Hald
  • Theis Lange
  • Ingela Lundin Kvalem
Original Paper


The aim of the study was to explore attitudes towards sexuality and sexual behaviour in older adults in Norway, Denmark, Belgium, and Portugal. A cross-sectional survey with representative samples of the population aged 60–75 years recruited through phone registers in Norway (676 men and 594 women), Denmark (530 men and 515 women), Belgium (318 men and 672 women), and Portugal (236 men and 273 women) was conducted. The data collection was carried out using an anonymous postal questionnaire. Four dimensions of attitudes towards sexuality were identified: ‘sex for love’, ‘sexual pressure in society’, ‘sex for well-being’, and ‘sexual changes and ageing’. Discriminant analyses identified three discriminant attitude functions: sex for well-being, sexual changes due to ageing, and sex for love. Portuguese men had positive attitudes towards sex as good for well-being in older adults but believed ageing was an obstacle to being sexual at this stage of life. Portuguese women believed sex was good for well-being and did not consider ageing an obstacle to sexual enjoyment. Norwegian men and Danish women believed changes in sexuality due to ageing were no obstacle to being sexual but did not believe that sex was good for well-being. The attitudes of Belgian and Danish men were largely inclined in the direction that sex is not particularly important for elderly people and that changes in sexuality occur due to the ageing process. Men and women were committed to the attitude of sex for love, although this was observed most in Belgian participants and least in Danish men. Positive attitudes towards sex for well-being and towards ageing and sexual changes correlated with less change in sexual interest and sexual enjoyment, and with increased frequency of intercourse and masturbation. To tailor successful sexual health interventions, attitudes of sexuality in older people should be addressed.


Sexual attitudes Older adults Sexual behaviour 



This research was fully financed by the Norwegian Research Council (Grant Number 250637).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bente Træen
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ana Alexandra Carvalheira
    • 2
  • Gert Martin Hald
    • 3
  • Theis Lange
    • 3
    • 4
  • Ingela Lundin Kvalem
    • 1
  1. 1.University of OsloOsloNorway
  2. 2.ISPA University InstituteLisbonPortugal
  3. 3.University of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark
  4. 4.Center for Statistical Science, Peking UniversityBeijingChina

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