What Influences The Sexual Intimacy Of Malaysia’s Elderly?

By Medically reviewed by Panel Perubatan Hello Doktor

Thanks to the advent of health care, economic prosperity and social security, human beings all over the world are living longer than they used to 5 decades ago. Malaysia being one of those country to benefit from such fruitful conditions is also heading towards an aging population. It is expected that by 2030, more than 15% of Malaysia’s population will be made of people aged 60 and beyond. While having the company of loved ones sticking around with us a bit longer is something we should definitely be grateful for, longevity has some issues of its own particularly when it comes to health care. As the elderly population builds up, it creates a new stakeholder that warrants equal attention by the health care system. Nowadays, public health focus is shifting towards the holistic care of the elderly (geriatric care) and the pursuit of providing as well maximising their quality of life.

The domains of geriatric care is a comprehensive one, that covers beyond age-related disease (dementia, presbyopia, osteoporosis, menopause). One of the domain to be looked into when it comes to their general well-being is on the aspect of elderly sexual intimacy. The truth about intimacy is that it is a basic need of human being and that it is ageless but studies exploring elderly sexual intimacy have been limited, especially in Asian countries like Malaysia, which reflects the influences of sociocultural aspects and taboos in shaping the perceptions, beliefs and behaviors of the community.

Intimacy refers to a close feeling shared between two people, which can be in the form of emotions, social relationship and physical intimacy, such as touching, cuddling and also sexual activity. Meanwhile, sexuality is a complex and multi-dimensional concept covering the desire for sex, the sexual act, and values and beliefs about sex. There are plenty of benefits when it comes to sex – even among the elderly, sexual contact correlates to better health, higher relationship satisfaction and easier stress management.

However, despite its positive impact on life satisfaction and quality of life, many people, young and old alike, are astounded by the idea of people remaining sexually active in their 60s and beyond. Many believe that sex belongs to young people and most older adults are not interested in or able to have enjoyable sex. There are many myths that are said to be the underlying reasons to why the elderly do not and should not have an active sex life. Theses presumptions can be very pervasive and damaging up to a point that sexuality or the problems related to sexual issues faced by older people, received very little attention in any national framework involving them. This gap in government policy mirrors the general perception and prejudices of a dull sex life of the elderly. So, what determines elderly sexual intimacy in the Malaysian population?

To accurately identify the determinants of sexual intimacy among married older people in Malaysia, a recently published cross-sectional study led by HS Minhat et al. was carried out among 1294 Malaysian older adults (aged 60 and above) who were randomly selected from all states in Malaysia, from January 2007 until December 2008. What the study found out was that having good social support from family and friends were protective determinants against poor sexual intimacy in later life. This essentially means elderly couples with good social circles and familial support tend to have better sexual intimacy as compared to others.

Meanwhile, those who were aged 70 to 79 years, aged more than 80 years, women, non‐Malay, received only informal education, had gastritis, had a stroke, perceived their current health status was satisfactory and those who are disabled (based on the World Health Organization Disability Assessment Schedule) were at risk of poor sexual intimacy.

The study concluded that the majority of older Malaysian couples were having poor sexual intimacy despite being still married and sleeping with their partners, reflecting the presence of underlying barriers towards elderly sexual intimacy amongst Malaysians.

These barriers could be related to the stereotypes and myths, and also the negative perceptions of the community, particularly the younger population, about having and talking about sex in later life. Considering the possible desire to have sex among older persons and the benefits obtained from sexual activity, promoting sexual health not only involves creating awareness and instilling knowledge among older persons, but also includes eliminating myths and stereotype about sex in later life among the younger population.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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