Project Findings

KEY FINDINGS

Sexual behaviours, relationships and dating patterns

Seventy-two per cent of survey participants reported having sex in the previous year (76% of men and 61% of women). A slightly higher proportion (88% of men and 72% of women) reported that they hoped or planned to have sex in the future, and a further 8% of men and 19% of women were unsure.

Those who had sex in the previous year had engaged in a variety of sexual practices including vaginal or anal intercourse (91%), giving (66%) and/or receiving (63%) oral sex and mutual masturbation (50%). Just over half of sexually active survey participants had sex one to five times in the previous four weeks.

 

In-depth analyses of the study’s findings have been published in a series of peer-reviewed journal articles. Key findings and links to articles are presented below. Additional articles will be available in the future.

Knowledge of STIs and safer-sex practices

From the survey

  • Older Australians had good general knowledge of the causes and symptoms of STIs but poorer knowledge in areas such as the protection offered by condoms and the potential transmission modes for specific STIs
  • Overall, women had better knowledge than men
  • Knowledge was better among men in their 60s and those who felt at risk of an STI. Knowledge was also better among men and women who had undergone STI testing
  • After taking other factors into account, there were no differences in overall knowledge of STIs between heterosexual and non-heterosexual (gay/lesbian/bisexual/other) men and women or according to country of birth

For further data on this topic, see:

Lyons A, Heywood W, Fileborn B, Minichiello V, Barrett C, Brown G, Hinchliff S, Malta S, Crameri P. 2017. Sexually active older people’s knowledge of sexually transmitted infections and safer sexual practices. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health. Advance online publication.

 

STI testing

From the survey

  • Less than one in three (30%) participants who may be at risk of a current or future STI reported STI testing in the previous five years
  • Non-heterosexual men were more likely to get tested than heterosexual men. Testing rates were no different according to country of birth
  • Of those who were diagnosed with an STI, the majority received treatment from a GP
  • Men were more likely to have been tested than women
  • Higher rates of testing were found among those who had two or more sexual partners in the past 12 months. Lower rates of testing were reported by women who did not use a condom for intercourse at their most recent sexual encounter

For further data on this topic, see:

Heywood W, Lyons A, Fileborn B, Minichiello V, Barrett C, Brown G, Hinchliff S, Malta S, Crameri P. 2016. Self-reported testing and treatment histories among older Australian men and women who may be at risk of a sexually transmitted infection. Sexual Health, 14(2); 139-146

 

Use of safer-sex practices

From the interviews

  • Older Australians commonly defined safer sex as using condoms. Fewer defined it more generally as preventing STI transmission, discussing STI history, STI testing, monogamy, avoiding certain sexual practices, or self-care
  • The importance of safer-sex was closely connected with relationship context and trust, perceived risk levels and concern for personal and public health
  • Barriers to the use of safer-sex practices included embarrassment, erectile difficulties, lack of a safer-sex culture, stigma, and reduced pleasure

For further data on this topic, see:

Fileborn B, Brown G, Lyons A, Hinchliff S, Heywood W, Minichiello V, Malta S, Barrett C, Crameri P. 2017. Safer sex in later life: Qualitative interviews with older Australians on their understanding and practices of safer sex. Journal of Sex Research. Advance online publication.

 

Learning about sex in later life

From the interviews

  • Many older Australians had limited experiences with sexuality education when growing up
  • Older Australian’s key sources of learning about sex in later life were predominately the Internet and healthcare providers. To a lesser extent, older Australians reported they used or would use media outlets, books, workshops and discussion groups to learn about sex
  • Many older Australians did not actively seek information on sex in later life

For further data on this topic, see:

Fileborn B, Lyons A, Hinchliff S, Brown G, Heywood W, Minichiello V. 2017. Learning about sex in later life: sources of education and older Australian adults. Sex Education, 17(2); 165-179

 

Importance of sex, meaning of sex and sexual pleasure for older men

From the interviews

  • Older heterosexual Australian men defined sex in a variety of ways ranging from physical behaviour (some of the men privileged intercourse while others were more inclusive of a range of behaviours) as well as intimacy and bonding. For some men the meaning of sex changed as they aged
  • For older heterosexual men the importance of sex was highly context dependent, ranging from highly important to less essential than it had been in the past
  • Understandings of sexual pleasure included orgasm and physical pleasure, mutual pleasure, bonding and intimacy
  • For a similar study of older Australian women, see Fileborn B, Thorpe R, Hawkes G, Minichiello V, Pitts M, Dune T. 2015. Sex, desire and pleasure: Considering the experiences of older Australian women. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 30(1); 117-130

For further data on this topic, see:

Fileborn B, Hinchliff S, Lyons A, Heywood W, Minichiello V, Brown G, Malta S, Barrett C, Crameri P. 2017. The importance of sex and the meaning of sex and sexual pleasure for men aged 60 and older who engaged in heterosexual relationships: Findings from a qualitative interview study. Archives of Sexual Behavior. Advance online publication.

 

Talking to healthcare providers

From the interviews

  • Many older Australians did not talk to their healthcare providers about sex
  • Embarrassment or difficulty talking to healthcare providers tended to be influenced by the relationship between the participant and their healthcare provider
  • Some older Australians were comfortable talking to healthcare providers about sex. Again, this appeared to be related to the quality of the relationship with the healthcare provider and their approach to sex
  • When sex was raised with healthcare providers, older Australians received mixed responses, ranging from positive to dismissive or uncomfortable. Healthcare providers’ responses appeared to influence participants’ willingness to discuss sex with them in the future

 

Ageism and sexual activity

From the survey

  • Experiences of ageism (age-related prejudice and discrimination) were common among participants.
  • Similar levels of ageism were reported by heterosexual and non-heterosexual participants. There were also no differences in levels of ageism according to country of birth
  • However, participants without a partner, who were unemployed, with lower incomes and those with poorer self-rated health reported more experiences of ageism
  • Experiences of ageism for both heterosexual and non-heterosexual groups were associated with participant’s sexual activity and interest in sex in a variety of ways
  • Experiences of ageism were associated with reduced sexual interest and activity in some participants
  • For other participants, more experiences of ageism were reported by those whose interest in sex had increased since the age of 60 and those who wanted sex more often in the future

 

Improving the sex lives of older Australians

From the interviews

  • When asked how their sexual lives could be supported or improved, many older Australians discussed the need to normalise the diversity of sexual expression and desire in later life
  • Older Australians felt that aged care facilities did not support consensual sexual expression. This caused concern and anxiety for many. Participants expressed a strong desire for aged care facilities to develop policy and practices that were accommodating and accepting of consensual sexual expression among residents
  • Others discussed the need to increase and improve the quality of cultural representations of older adults
  • Education and public health campaigns were suggested as a way to raise awareness about sex, sexuality, and sexual health in later life. This included efforts targeted towards the general public, health care providers and aged care service providers, as well as towards older people themselves

For further data on this topic, see:

Fileborn B, Lyons A, Hinchliff S, Brown G, Heywood W, Dow B, Malta S, Minichiello V. 2017. Improving the sexual lives of older Australians: perspectives from a qualitative study. Australasian Journal on Ageing. Advanced online publication.