A team of researchers, including an Indian-origin scientist, says that apart from aging, factors like mental and physical health, demographics and lifetime experiences also lead to sexual dysfunction.
Edward Laumann, the George Herbert Mead Distinguished Service Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago, says that a history of sexually transmitted disease also has an impact on sexual health later in life.
He says that people who had an STD are also more likely to have had sexual experiences over their lifetimes that included more risks and multiple sex partners.
"Having had an STD roughly quadruples a woman's odds of reporting sexual pain and triples her lubrication problems," said Laumann, lead author of the study published in the current issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
The research paper says that men are more than five times as likely to report sex as non-pleasurable if they have previously had an STD.
Writing the report with Aniruddha Das and Linda Waite, Laumann revealed that women might be more likely than men to experience sexual dysfunction because of health issues.
The authors noted that the most common problem for men was erectile dysfunction, a problem that would increase with age.
"The results point to a need for physicians who are treating older adults experiencing sexual problems to take into account their physical health and also consider their mental health and their satisfaction with their intimate relationship in making any assessment," Laumann said.
The study was based on interviews with a national sample of 1,550 women and 1,455 men, ages 57 to 85, who were part of the 2005-2006 National Social Life, Health and Aging Project, a nationally representative survey of community-dwelling older U.S. adults.
The survey collected data on social life, sexuality, health, and a broad range of biological measures.
Laumann describes this study as a companion to a 1999 study that looked at sexual dysfunction among men and women, ages 18 to 59, and found that physical health was a bigger predictor of sexual problems for men than it was for women.
For the younger participants involved in the previous study, said the researcher, having an STD did not increase the odds of experiencing sexual dysfunction.
In the latest study, it was found that among older women, a common factor correlated with sexual dysfunction was urinary tract syndrome, which was associated with decreased interest in sex, as were mental health issues such as anxiety.
Among men, mental health issues and relationship problems contributed to a lack of interest in sex and the inability to achieve orgasm, while being treated for urinary tract syndrome was associated with trouble maintaining and achieving an erection.
Daily alcohol consumption appeared to improve a woman's sexual health, increasing her interest and pleasure in sex. However, there was no reported impact of alcohol consumption among men.
The study even found that demographic characteristics and cultural factors also influence sexual performance: hispanic women were twice as likely to report pain during intercourse, and black men were twice as likely to report a lack of interest in sex and more likely to report climaxing too early.