Partnered Sexuality and Cardiovascular Health among Older Adults

Hui Liu, PhDPrincipal Investigator: Hui Liu, PhD, Associate Professor of Sociology (MSU)

The team is composed of Hui Liu (PI), Associate Professor of Sociology; Donna Wang (Co-I), Professor of Medicine; Raza Haque (Co-I), Associate Professor of Family Medicine and a Sparrow-affiliated physician.

Purpose/Specific Aims: The proposed project is a pilot study of a broader project which aims to promote scientific understanding of the links between partnered sexuality and cardiovascular health among older adults. It has three specific aims: 1) collect pilot clinical data on partnered sexuality and cardiovascular health among older adults; 2) evaluate the pilot data collection process and determine the feasibility of the approaches; and 3) analyze the pilot data to develop preliminary results on the associations of sexuality with a range of cardiovascular biomarkers.

Rationale/Significance of Study: Despite the stereotype that older people are, or should be, asexual, growing evidence suggests that sexuality remains important throughout a person’s life, and that many older people engage in sexual activities until their eighties or even their nineties. However, scientific understanding of sexuality in later life, especially its consequences for health, is greatly limited. We develop an integrated psychosocial and biological theoretical model to hypothesize that partnered sexuality—one of the most fundamental types of social relationships—holds significant meaning for individuals’ life context and affects cardiovascular health via multiple pathways. Results from this project speak to health policy and practice as well as to our general understanding of sexuality in later life.

Main Research Variables: The dependent variables are cardiovascular biomarkers drawn from medical records. The key independent variables are sexuality factors (e.g., sexual frequency, type of sex, sexual quality) which will be collected using survey methods. We will control a number of socio-demographic and health related covariates.

Approaches, Design, Setting, Sample, Methods: We aim to recruit 80 participants (40 men and 40 women) in the clinic of Sparrow Medical Group Senior Health. Patients aged 65 and above who come to do routine annual physical check and who are currently married or cohabiting with a different-sex partner are qualified to participate. The participants will be recruited as individuals instead of dyads because the focus is on individual risks. At the end of their clinic visit, all study participants will be asked to complete a survey on their sexual experience and sign a consent form for medical record release. We will then link the survey data to the patients’ medical records, and analyze the potential association between sexuality (obtained from survey) and cardiovascular biomarkers (obtained from medical records). We will also assess the feasibility of the data collection process to prepare for future R01 application.

Future Funding: Results from the pilot study will be essentially important for the research team to develop a larger scale NIH R01 proposal. The assessment of the pilot data collection process will be utilized to justify the feasibility of the approaches (e.g., recruitment, logistics) in the R01 application, and the analysis of the pilot data will provide preliminary results on the association of sexuality with a range of cardiovascular biomarkers.