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Sexual Activity in Older Adults with Visual Impairment: Findings from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing

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Sexual activity is a central component of intimate relationships and has been shown to have numerous benefits for health and wellbeing. Studies have shown that people with disabilities often report less satisfaction with their sex lives, but none have examined the levels of sexual activity in older adults with visual problems. We investigated associations between self-rated eyesight and sexual activity in a population-based sample of older adults. Analyses were conducted using data from 2587 men and 3238 women participating in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Participants provided information on self-rated eyesight in three domains: overall, at distance, and up close (categorised as: excellent/very good/good/fair–poor), sexual activity (any vs. none in the last year), and frequency of sexual intercourse in the last month (not at all, once, 2–3 times, once a week or more) among those who were sexually active. Associations between self-rated eyesight and sexual activity were examined using adjusted logistic regression. Relative to excellent self-rated eyesight, fair–poor eyesight was consistently associated with significantly lower odds of being sexually active in men (overall eyesight OR 0.41, 95% CI 0.26–0.64, p < 0.001) but not in women (overall eyesight OR = 0.99, 95% CI 0.70–1.41, p = 0.959). However, among women who were sexually active, there was some evidence that fair–poor eyesight was associated with lower frequency of sexual intercourse in the last month (e.g. fair–poor eyesight at distance OR = 0.45, 95% CI 0.31–0.66, p < 0.001). No association between self-rated eyesight and frequency of sexual intercourse was observed for men. Identifying ways to help older patients with impaired vision achieve a more active sex life could help to improve the health and wellbeing of this population group. Visual impairment is associated with lower prevalence of any sexual activity in older men, and lower frequency of sexual intercourse in older women.

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This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors. Dr. Guillermo F. López Sánchez is funded by the Seneca Foundation - Agency for Science and Technology of the Region of Murcia, Spain. 20390/PD/17.

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Correspondence to Lee Smith.

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Smith, L., Koyanagi, A., Pardhan, S. et al. Sexual Activity in Older Adults with Visual Impairment: Findings from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Sex Disabil 37, 475–487 (2019).

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