Sociodemographic Correlates of Sexlessness Among American Adults and Associations with Self-Reported Happiness Levels: Evidence from the U.S. General Social Survey

Original Paper

Abstract

Although sexual activity is commonly believed to be a key component of emotional well-being, little is known about the factors associated with the absence of sexual activity or its associations with self-reported happiness. Using the U.S. General Social Survey–National Death Index 2008 dataset, a series of nationally representative surveys (1988–2002), this study analyzed the sociodemographic and lifestyle factors associated with past-year sexlessness and self-reported happiness among American adults (n = 17,744). After adjustment for marital status, there were no significant time trends evident in the proportion of American adults reporting past-year sexlessness. Among participants (age = 18–89 years), 15.2% of males and 26.7% of females reported past-year sexlessness while 8.7% of males and 17.5% of females reported no sex for 5 years or more. For both genders, past-year sexlessness was most strongly associated with older age and being currently non-married in the multivariable models. Among males, the multivariable analysis also showed that sexlessness was associated with providing less than 20% of the household income (OR 2.27). In female participants, sexlessness was associated with very low income, poor health, lower financial satisfaction, absence of children, and having conservative sexual attitudes (OR 1.46–3.60). For both genders, Black race was associated with a much lower likelihood of sexlessness among currently non-married adults. The purported detrimental impact of sexlessness on self-reported happiness levels was not evident in this large, nationally representative study after adjusting for sociodemographic factors. Sexless Americans reported very similar happiness levels as their sexually active counterparts.

Keywords

Sexual activity Abstinence Virginity Asexuality Celibacy DSM-5 

References

  1. Argyle, M. (1987). The psychology of happiness. London: Methuen.Google Scholar
  2. Beckman, N., Waern, M., Gustafson, D., & Skoog, I. (2008). Secular trends in self reported sexual activity and satisfaction in Swedish 70 year olds: Cross sectional survey of four populations, 1971–2001. British Medical Journal, 337, a279.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Blanchflower, D. G., & Oswald, A. J. (2004). Money, sex and happiness: An empirical study. Scandinavian Journal of Economics, 106, 393–415.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bogaert, A. F. (2004). Asexuality: Prevalence and associated factors in a national probability sample. Journal of Sex Research, 41, 279–287.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Bogaert, A. F. (2015). Asexuality: What it is and why it matters. Journal of Sex Research, 52, 362–379.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2002). Trends in sexual risk behaviors among high school students—United States, 1991–2001. Journal of the American Medical Association, 288, 1842–1844.Google Scholar
  7. Chou, K. L., Ng, I. S. F., & Yu, K. M. (2014). Lifetime abstention of sexual intercourse and health in middle-aged and older adults: Results from Wave 2 of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 43, 891–900.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. DeLamater, J., & Moorman, S. M. (2007). Sexual behavior in later life. Journal of Aging and Health, 19, 921–945.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. DeVellis, R. (1991). Scale development. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  10. Dunn, K. M., Croft, P. R., & Hackett, G. I. (1999). Association of sexual problems with social, psychological, and physical problems in men and women: A cross sectional population survey. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 53, 144–148.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  11. Eisenberg, M. L., Shindel, A. W., Smith, J. F., Breyer, B. N., & Lipshultz, L. I. (2010). Socioeconomic, anthropomorphic, and demographic predictors of adult sexual activity in the United States: Data from the National Survey of Family Growth. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 7, 50–58.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Eisenberg, M. L., Shindel, A. W., Smith, J. F., Lue, T. F., & Walsh, T. J. (2009). Who is the 40-year-old virgin and where did he/she come from? Data from the National Survey of Family Growth. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 6, 2154–2161.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Finer, L. B. (2007). Trends in premarital sex in the United States, 1954–2003. Public Health Reports, 122, 73–78.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  14. Haydon, A. A., Cheng, M. M., Herring, A. H., McRae, A. L., & Halpern, C. T. (2014). Prevalence and predictors of sexual inexperience in adulthood. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 43, 221–230.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Heiman, J. R., Long, J. S., Smith, S. N., Fisher, W. A., Sand, M. S., & Rosen, R. C. (2011). Sexual satisfaction and relationship happiness in midlife and older couples in five countries. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 741–753.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Herbenick, D., Reece, M., Schick, V., Sanders, S. A., Dodge, B., & Fortenberry, J. D. (2010). Sexual behaviors, relationships, and perceived health status among adult women in the United States: Results from a national probability sample. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 7(Suppl. 5), 277–290.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Hoglund, J., Jern, P., Sandnabba, N. K., & Santtila, P. (2014). Finnish women and men who self-report no sexual attraction in the past 12 months: Prevalence, relationship status and sexual behavior history. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 43, 879–889.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Hong Kong Government. (2007). Marriage and divorce trends in Hong Kong, 1981 to 2006. Accessed November 15, 2015. Available from: http://www.statistics.gov.hk/pub/B70711FB2007XXXXB0100.pdf.
  19. Jaccard, J., McDonald, R., Wan, C. K., Guilamo-Ramos, V., Dittus, P., & Quinlan, S. (2004). Recalling sexual partners: The accuracy of self-reports. Journal of Health Psychology, 9, 699–712.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Kim, J. H., Lau, J. T., & Cheuk, K. K. (2009). Sexlessness among married Chinese adults in Hong Kong: Prevalence and associated factors. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 6, 2997–3007.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Laumann, E. O., Glasser, D. B., Neves, R. C., & Moreira, E. D. (2009). A population-based survey of sexual activity, sexual problems and associated help-seeking behavior patterns in mature adults in the United States of America. International Journal of Impotence Research, 21, 171–178.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Laumann, E. O., Nicolosi, A., Glasser, D. B., Paik, A., Gingell, C., Moreira, E., et al. (2005). Sexual problems among women and men aged 40-80 y: Prevalence and correlates identified in the Global Study of Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors. International Journal of Impotence Research, 17, 39–57.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Lindau, S. T., & Gavrilova, N. (2010). Sex, health, and years of sexually active life gained due to good health: Evidence from two US population based cross sectional surveys of ageing. British Medical Journal, 340, c810.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  24. Lindau, S. T., Schumm, L. P., Laumann, E. O., Levinson, W., O’Muircheartaigh, C. A., & Waite, L. J. (2007). A study of sexuality and health among older adults in the United States. New England Journal of Medicine, 357, 762–774.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  25. Marsiglio, W., & Donnelly, D. (1991). Sexual relations in later life: A national study of married persons. Journal of Gerontology, 46, S338–344.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Matthias, R. E., Lubben, J. E., Atchison, K. A., & Schweitzer, S. O. (1997). Sexual activity and satisfaction among very old adults: Results from a community-dwelling Medicare population survey. The Gerontologist, 37, 6–14.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Moriki, Y., Hayashi, K., & Matsukura, R. (2015). Sexless marriages in Japan: Prevalence and reasons. In N. Ogawa & I. H. Shah (Eds.), Low fertility and reproductive health in East Asia (pp. 161–185). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  28. Muennig, P., Johnson, G., Kim, J., Smith, T. W., & Rosen, Z. (2011). The General Social Survey-National Death Index: An innovative new dataset for the social sciences. BMC Research Notes, 4, 385.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  29. Myers, D. G. (1992). The pursuit of happiness. Who is happy and why. New York: William Morrow.Google Scholar
  30. Nettleman, M., Ingersoll, K. S., & Ceperich, S. D. (2006). Characteristics of adult women who abstain from sexual intercourse. Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care, 32, 23–24.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  31. Nicolosi, A., Buvat, J., Glasser, D. B., Hartmann, U., Laumann, E. O., Gingell, C., et al. (2006). Sexual behaviour, sexual dysfunctions and related help seeking patterns in middle-aged and elderly Europeans: The Global Study of Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors. World Journal of Urology, 24, 423–428.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Nicolosi, A., Glasser, D. B., Kim, S. C., Marumo, K., & Laumann, E. O. (2005). Sexual behaviour and dysfunction and help-seeking patterns in adults aged 40–80 years in the urban population of Asian countries. BJU International, 95, 609–614.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Palacios-Cena, D., Carrasco-Garrido, P., Hernandez-Barrera, V., Alonso-Blanco, C., Jimenez-Garcia, R., & Fernandez-de-las-Penas, C. (2012). Sexual behaviors among older adults in Spain: Results from a population-based national sexual health survey. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 9, 121–129.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Pangman, V. C., & Seguire, M. (2000). Sexuality and the chronically ill older adult: A social justice issue. Sexuality and Disability, 18, 49–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Patel, D., Gillespie, B., & Foxman, B. (2003). Sexual behavior of older women: Results of a random-digit-dialing survey of 2000 women in the United States. Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 30, 216–220.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Prigerson, H. G., Maciejewski, P. K., & Rosenheck, R. A. (1999). The effects of marital dissolution and marital quality on health and health service use among women. Medical Care, 37, 858–873.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Rasberry, C. N., & Goodson, P. (2009). Predictors of secondary abstinence in U.S. college undergraduates. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38, 74–86.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Rosen, R. C., Shifren, J. L., Monz, B. U., Odom, D. M., Russo, P. A., & Johannes, C. B. (2009). Correlates of sexually related personal distress in women with low sexual desire. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 6, 1549–1560.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2001). On happiness and human potential: A review of research on hedonic and eudaimonic well-being. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 141–166.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Ryff, C. D., & Keyes, C. L. M. (1995). The structure of psychological well-being revisited. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 719–727.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Ryff, C. D., & Singer, B. (1998). The contours of positive human health. Psychological Inquiry, 9, 1–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Sanders, S. A., & Reinisch, J. M. (1999). Would you say you “had sex” if…? Journal of the American Medical Association, 281, 275–277.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Sandfort, T. G., Orr, M., Hirsch, J. S., & Santelli, J. (2008). Long-term health correlates of timing of sexual debut: Results from a national US study. American Journal of Public Health, 98, 155–161.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  44. Schick, V., Herbenick, D., Reece, M., Sanders, S. A., Dodge, B., Middlestadt, S. E., et al. (2010). Sexual behaviors, condom use, and sexual health of Americans over 50: Implications for sexual health promotion for older adults. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 7(Suppl. 5), 315–329.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Schnarch, D., & Maddock, J. (2003). Resurrecting sex: Solving sexual problems and revoloutionizing your relationship. New York: Harper Collins Inc.Google Scholar
  46. Schreiner-Engel, P., & Schiavi, R. C. (1986). Lifetime psychopathology in individuals with low sexual desire. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 174, 646–651.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55, 5–14.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410–421.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Shifren, J. L., Monz, B. U., Russo, P. A., Segreti, A., & Johannes, C. B. (2008). Sexual problems and distress in United States women: Prevalence and correlates. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 112, 970–978.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  50. Smith, T. W. (1991). Adult sexual behavior in 1989: Number of partners, frequency of intercourse and risk of AIDS. Family Planning Perspectives, 23, 102–107.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Smith, T. W. (2006). American sexual behavior: Trends, socio-demographic differences, and risk behavior (GSS Topical Report No. 25). National Opinion Research Center, University of Chicago. Retrieved from http://www.norc.org/PDFs/Publications/AmericanSexualBehavior2006.pdf.
  52. Turner, C. F., Danella, R. D., & Rogers, S. M. (1995). Sexual behavior in the United States 1930–1990: Trends and methodological problems. Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 22, 173–190.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  53. Waite, L. J., Laumann, E. O., Das, A., & Schumm, L. P. (2009). Sexuality: Measures of partnerships, practices, attitudes, and problems in the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Study. Journals of Gerontology, Series B, Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 64(Suppl. 1), 56–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Weiner-Davis, M. (2003). The sex-starved marriage. New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
  55. Wong, S. Y., Leung, J. C., & Woo, J. (2009). Sexual activity, erectile dysfunction and their correlates among 1566 older Chinese men in Southern China. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 6, 74–80.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The School of Public Health and Primary CareThe Chinese University of Hong Kong, Prince of Wales HospitalShatinHong Kong
  2. 2.Alice Lee Centre for Nursing StudiesNational University of SingaporeSingaporeSingapore
  3. 3.The Mailman School of Public HealthColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations