• female sexual function;
  • aging;
  • race/ethnicity;
  • sexual activity

OBJECTIVES: To examine factors influencing sexual activity and functioning in racially and ethnically diverse middle-aged and older women.

DESIGN: Cross-sectional cohort study.

SETTING: Integrated healthcare delivery system.

PARTICIPANTS: One thousand nine hundred seventy-seven women aged 45 to 80.

MEASUREMENTS: Self-administered questionnaires assessed sexual desire, activity, satisfaction, and problems.

RESULTS: Of the 1,977 participants (876 white, 388 African American, 347 Latina, and 351 Asian women), 43% reported at least moderate sexual desire, and 60% had been sexually active in the previous 3 months. Half of sexually active participants (n=969) described their overall sexual satisfaction as moderate to high. Among sexually inactive women, the most common reason for inactivity was lack of interest in sex (39%), followed by lack of a partner (36%), physical problem of partner (23%), and lack of interest by partner (11%); only 9% were inactive because of personal physical problems. In multivariable analysis, African-American women were more likely than white women to report at least moderate desire (odds ratio (OR)=1.65, 95% confidence interval (CI)=1.25–2.17) but less likely to report weekly sexual activity (OR=0.68, 95% CI=0.48–0.96); sexually active Latina women were more likely than white women to report at least moderate sexual satisfaction (OR=1.75, 95% CI=1.20–2.55).

CONCLUSION: A substantial proportion of community-dwelling women remain interested and engaged in sexual activity into older age. Lack of a partner capable of or interested in sex may contribute more to sexual inactivity than personal health problems in this population. Racial and ethnic differences in self-reported sexual desire, activity, and satisfaction may influence discussions about sexual difficulties in middle-aged and older women.