Is it difficult or even embarrassing to imagine grandparents having oral sex? Indeed, most studies of oral sex focus on adolescents or younger adults, while research on sexuality in late life is primarily focused on sexual dysfunctions from a medical perspective, contributing to the prevailing stereotype that most older adults are sexually inactive or asexual due to health conditions or related medication use. However, data from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project showed that a significant share of older couples were sexually active and about 37% of them had participated in oral sex in the past year.
Despite the fact that many older adults stay, or want to stay, sexually active, a significant share of them suffer from sexual dysfunctions that make penile-vaginal intercourse more difficult. Therefore, oral sex may play an important but overlooked role in encouraging sexual behavior and thus enhancing well-being in late adulthood. However, empirical studies of oral sex are limited, and virtually all of them focus on younger adults and have shown mixed evidence on oral sex links to well-being. Some studies suggest that oral sex, either as foreplay or as a replacement for vaginal sex, may enhance sexual enjoyment and satisfaction, and in turn increase the chance of orgasm and promote emotional closeness and well-being: whereas others suggest that oral sex has less benefit to people’s happiness and well-being than vaginal sex. Nevertheless, empirical evidence on implications of oral sex for people’s well-being especially among older adults, is lacking.
We analyzed 884 older heterosexual couples, with at least one spouse older than age 62, from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project data to provide the first nationally representative evidence linking oral sex, relationship quality, and psychological well-being. We found that receiving oral sex was positively related to both men’s and women’s perceptions of relationship quality, which in turn promoted their happiness and mental health and reduced psychological distress.
Interestingly, we found that men’s giving oral sex was also positively related to their own emotional well-being, in part because it heightened their wife’s happiness in their relationship. However, women’s giving oral sex was unrelated to their own well-being although it did increase their husband’s happiness in the relationship. A wife’s appraisal of happiness in the marital relationship was related to both her own and her husband’s emotional well-being, while husband’s feelings of marital happiness were related only to his own well-being, not his wife’s. Because women usually play the primary role in caregiving, managing household work, and providing emotional support in the relationship, and men tend to benefit more from the relationship, it is not surprising that “her” appraisal of the relationship has a key impact on the couple’s well-being.
Another interesting finding is that men who had more negative feelings about their relationship were less likely to give oral sex to their wife, but when women had negative feelings about their relationship, it did not affect whether they gave oral sex to their husband.
As we celebrate Valentine’s Day, let’s refresh our senior couples’ excitement of this special holiday! When other family members, friends, and neighbors are lost due to geographic relocation and death in late adulthood, a spouse or partner may play an increasingly crucial role in older couples’ well-being.