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A Descriptive Epidemiology of Sexual Behavior and Interest in Older Adults with Diabetes

Alexandra C.H. Nowakowski, PhD, MPH, J. E. Sumerau, PhD


Objective: In this manuscript we conduct descriptive analysis of epidemiological patterns in older Americans’ experiences with diabetes, comorbid chronic conditions, and sexuality. We use data from the National Social, Health, and Life Project (NSHAP) to explore variations in sexual and social experience among Americans with diabetes in later life.

Research Design and Methods: We use descriptive epidemiological methods to explore three research questions. First, how do sexual behavior and interest vary among older adults with and without diabetes? Second, do older adults with diabetes frequently cite health issues as a reason for abstaining from sexual activity? Third, what role might interrelated socio-demographic characteristics play in these patterns?

Results: We illuminate consistent differences between people with and without diabetes with respect to sexual behavior, but not with respect to sexual interest. We find that older adults with and without diabetes think about and desire sex frequently. However, we also find that older adults with diabetes report having sex much less frequently than their peers without diabetes do. This difference is especially striking for older adults who have both diabetes and other chronic conditions.

Conclusions: We assess these findings in the context of prior clinical, social, and behavioral research on sexuality, aging, and chronicity. We conclude with implications of our findings for further research concerning the intersection of diabetes and sexuality in the lives of older Americans.

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