WEDNESDAY, May 19, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- A new study of older people found that it's a good idea for men to confide to friends about their sexual problems -- it reduced their stress and unhappiness -- but the same was not necessarily true for women.
Researchers at Oregon State University looked at a survey of 861 people aged 57 to 85. They all had sexual partners and said they had at least one sexual problem, such as lack of libido, physical pain during sex, impotence or lubrication issues.
The study, to be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, found that fewer than half of those in the study talked to doctors about their problems; men were more likely to do so than women. Overall, well-being was about the same whether the participants talked to doctors or not.
"This was our most unexpected outcome," study co-author and graduate student Ryo Hirayama said in a news release. "Older adults are advised to talk to their doctors about sexual health issues, but not all people do so, and talking with a physician is not as helpful as you might expect."
Men reported overall that they were happier and less stressed after talking about their sexual problems with their partner or a friend. The same wasn't the case for women: talking with friends or partners didn't help.
"In fact, women with higher levels of sexual stress who confided in their close friends reported lower happiness," Hirayama said. "We aren't quite sure what to make of this finding."
In the big picture, "what this tells is that women's sexual issues are complex, and that complexity needs to be recognized," said study co-author and professor Alexis Walker in a news release. "A woman with a great deal of sexual concerns could feel threatened by talking to her spouse about it, or perhaps simply confiding in a friend is not enough."
Walker added that regardless of such problems, couples should work to keep the lines of communication open. "In the general context of sex and aging, the rule is use it or lose it," she said. "The best prediction of sexual activity is to continue to be sexually active throughout your adult life. But it is also true that older people can have sexual problems, and sometimes there are ways to work around these issues by emphasizing other activities you enjoy as a couple."
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more on sexual health.