Sexual health and ageing, perspectives and education

The SHAPE project was funded in 2016 by the Hallmark Ageing Research Initiative to investigate how and when sexual health/sexuality is discussed between older patients and their healthcare practitioners – and the barriers and enablers to such discussions occurring


Who is undertaking the research?

The project is a collaboration between University of Melbourne researchers Prof Jane Hocking (Melbourne School of Population and Global Health (MSPGH)), Prof Meredith Temple-Smith (Department of General Practice), Dr Adrian Bickerstaffe (MSPGH) and the National Ageing Research Institute’s Dr Sue Malta (also a member of MSPGH). Our project partners include Melbourne Sexual Health Centre, Royal Women’s Hospital and Andrology Australia, as well as consumer advocacy groups, Council on the Ageing and Women’s Health in the South East.

Why is this research important?  

Sexual health and sexual activity enhance physical and mental health as we age. However, sexual health is rarely discussed between healthcare practitioners (HCPs) and older patients. The reasons for this are many and include lack of time, uncertainty about how to raise the subject and assumptions that older adults have no need for sexual health support or advice. This is concerning given sexual dysfunction increases with age and can be a marker of underlying chronic illness. Further older adults are the fastest growing demographic using online dating sites and we are seeing a 50% increase in sexually transmitted infections in adults aged 60+ years.

The aim of the project is to improve sexual health and healthy ageing among men and women over their life-course ( The objectives include:

  • Determining HCPs’ (General Practitioners, Practice Nurses, Practice Managers) knowledge of, and attitudes/practices towards addressing the sexual health needs of older patients
  • Identifying barriers and facilitators to discussing sexual health with older patients
  • Determining the preferences of older patients for discussing their sexual health with HCPs
  • Assessing the feasibility of developing a communication support resource to facilitate such conversations occurring

We will use the results of this project to develop a communication support resource that we will evaluate in general practice.

[Source: Dr Sue Malta:]