How do older people discuss their own sexuality? A systematic review of qualitative research studies

Ateret Gewirtz-Meydan, Trish Hafford-Letchfield, Liat Ayalon, Yael Benyamini, Violetta Biermann, Alice Coffey, Jeanne Jackson, Amanda Phelan, Peggy Voß, Marija Geiger Zeman, Zdenko Zeman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


This study captured older people’s attitudes and concerns about sex and sexuality in later life by synthesising qualitative research published on this issue. The systematic review was conducted between November 2015 and June 2016 based on a pre-determined protocol. Key words were used to ensure a precise search strategy. Empirically based, qualitative literature from 18 databases was found. Twenty studies met the inclusion criteria. Thomas and Harden’s thematic synthesis was used to generate ‘analytical themes’ which summarise this body of literature. Three main themes were identified: (a) social legitimacy for sexuality in later life; (b) health, not age, is what truly impacts sexuality, and (c) the hegemony of penetrative sex. The themes illustrate the complex and delicate relation between ageing and sexuality. Older adults facing health issues that affect sexual function adopt broader definitions of sexuality and sexual activity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)293-308
Number of pages16
JournalCulture, Health and Sexuality
Issue number3
StatePublished - 4 Mar 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, © 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


This review was supported by a grant from the European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST IS1402) on Ageism, from a multidisciplinary cross-national perspective.

FundersFunder number
European Cooperation in Science and TechnologyCOST IS1402


    • Sex
    • ageing
    • intimacy
    • sexuality
    • thematic synthesis


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