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


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.

Author Biographies

Alexandra C.H. Nowakowski, PhD, MPH, Florida State University

Xan Nowakowski, PhD, is on the faculty at Florida State University in Medicine and Sociology, and proudly serves on the editorial board for PLAID. Xan lives with a chronic autoimmune disease of the mucous membranes that is similar to cystic fibrosis, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder. Their work focuses on the experience and management of chronic conditions, including advocacy for members of marginalized populations. Racial and ethnic inequality and the experiences of sexual and gender minorities are particular emphases in Xans research and outreach. Xan has a PhD and MS in Medical Sociology from FSU, an MPH in Health Systems and Policy from Rutgers University, and a BA in Political Science from Columbia University.

J. E. Sumerau, PhD, University of Tampa
J Sumerau, PhD, is on the faculty at the University of Tampa, and previously taught at FSU while earning a PhD in Sociological Social Psychology. J lives with bipolar, depersonalization, and PTSD as well as chronic leg pain due to severe injuries. J also experiences this world as a bisexual, genderqueer agnostic, and in so doing, experiences many ways marginalized identities interact with chronic conditions throughout our daily lives. Zir work focuses on gender, sexuality, religion, and health, and a diverse array of social inequalities that intersect with these areas. Advocacy is likewise a major emphasis for J in all pursuits. In addition to holding a PhD and MS from FSU, J has a BS in Sociology from Augusta University, serves as the director of applied sociology at zir institution and regularly conducts evaluation research on the effectiveness of social programs for diverse communities.
Original Research Articles