Old & Sexy: Investigating And Reducing Stigmatization Of Sexually-Active Older Persons

Samantha Nicole Levy

This thesis is restricted to Yale network users only. It will be made publicly available on 08/28/2021


Media often portrays older persons as asexual or perversely sexual. This stigmatization may harm older persons’ sexual, mental, and physical health and well-being. As such, our study aimed to investigate the stigmatization of sexuality in later life and see if it can be reversed. Our four hypotheses included: (1) sexually-active older persons would be more stigmatized than sexually-inactive older persons; (2) negative age beliefs would predict stigmatization of sexually-active older adults; (3) participants would think more negatively about sexually-active older men compared to sexually-active older women; and (4) a brief writing intervention would help improve participants’ views towards sexually-active old persons, in addition to the sexual self-efficacy of older persons in speaking with their health care providers. 428 total participants (ages 19 to 30 and 60 to 80) were recruited via Amazon Mechanical Turk, an electronic crowdsourcing platform. Attitudes toward sexuality in later life were collected using both implicit and explicit measures, and analyses were conducted using a series of analyses of covariance models. Results supported the first three hypotheses and partially supported the fourth, namely that: (1) participants expressed more negative attitudes towards sexually-active older persons than sexually-inactive older persons; (2) negative age stereotypes and ageism predicted the stigmatization of sexually-active older persons; (3) sexually-active older men were viewed more negatively than sexually-active older women; and (4) the positive, counter-stereotype writing intervention successfully improved participants’ views of sexually-active older women, sexual activity in later life, and predictions of their own sexual self-efficacy in later life or as they continue to age. To our knowledge, this study is the first to incorporate implicit and explicit measures of attitudes toward sexually-active older persons. Our results have important public health implications, including: (a) a demonstrated need for improved awareness of individual, interpersonal, and institutional sexual age stigma; and (b) that the stigmatization of sexually-active older persons varies by gender and should perhaps be targeted separately; and (c) the potential for short writing-based interventions to improve attitudes toward sexuality in later life and sexual self-efficacy among older persons.