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What factors affect our experiences of our intimate relationships as we grow older? This report examines the sexual and intimate lives of older adults, using survey data of men and women aged 50 to 90+ living in England.

Valentine’s day is associated with romantic love and relationships, something that most people want in their lives. However, our experiences of love and relationships change across our lifecourse in both positive and negative ways. So as the Waterboys, and more recently Ellie Goulding, have asked ‘How Long Will I Love you?’ (Mike Scott How Long Will I Love You lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC). Goulding ends her version of the song with the words: ‘We're all travelling through time together, every day of our lives, all we can do is do our best, to relish this remarkable ride’.

Reflecting on these lyrics what factors then affect our experiences of our intimate relationships as we grow older? As a social scientist (Dr David Lee, University of Manchester Institute for Collaborative Research on Ageing) and a nurse (Professor Josie Tetley, Manchester Metropolitan University) our worlds have come together to explore relationships and intimacy in later life using data gathered by the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA).

This report summarises the findings from the Sexual Relations and Activities Questionnaire (SRA-Q) that was used as part of the ELSA study and makes recommendations for practice and policy that can make a difference to the ways in which we can ‘do our best’ to support the sexual and intimate lives of older adults. The people who took part in the study were men and women aged 50 to 90+ living in England.

Key recommendations:

  • Conversations around sex and older people need to be normalised – countering stereotypes and misconceptions will improve public health
  • Health professionals need to proactively engage with older people to better manage problems that impact on both individuals and couples sexual health and function
  • Positive sexuality and intimacy throughout the lifecourse is linked to higher levels of happiness and well-being – irrespective of age
  • Older people have a right to good sexual health care and should be able to easily access joined up services to help them meet that goal


Baroness Sally Greengross OBE, Chief Executive, ILC-UK said:

'We know that many men and women remain sexually active throughout their lives, and that intimate relationships in later life can continue to have a positive impact of overall health and wellbeing.

Unfortnately, in 2017 there is still a need to dispel myths around relationships in later life. Organisations like the ILC-UK will continue to make the case for a life course approach to sexual health and relationships which sees advice and services available from the college to the care home'.

Dr David Lee, University of Manchester Institute for Collaborative Research on Ageing said:

‘We know that positive sexuality and intimacy throughout the lifecourse is linked to higher levels of happiness and well-being – irrespective of age. Older people have a right to good sexual health care and should be able to easily access joined up services to help them meet that goal.

Health professionals need to proactively engage with older people to better manage problems that impact on both individuals and couples sexual health and function. By normalising conversations around sex and older people, health professionals can help to counter steretypes and misconceptions around sex in later life, which will ultimately improve public health’.

To view an interview with report authors Dr David Lee and Professor Josie Tetley, please click here.

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