Stigma around older people’s intimate and sexual relationships is harming health and wellbeing

  • New study reveals older people often experience a stigma around intimate and sexual relationships
  • Findings show older people are subject to prejudice and discrimination when it comes to discussing issues related to their sexual and intimate needs
  • Age-related stereotypes are preventing older people from receiving appropriate support for concerns over sex and relationships
  • Study’s author collaborates with renowned artist from Sheffield on series of artworks to challenge taboo
A piece of artwork produced by Pete McKee for the project A piece of artwork produced for the project by Pete McKee

Older people are experiencing a stigma around their sex lives and intimate relationships, which is significantly affecting their health and wellbeing, according to a new study from the University of Sheffield.

The study, led by Dr Sharron Hinchliff from the University’s School of Nursing and Midwifery, has revealed that older people often experience prejudice and discrimination when it comes to receiving support for their sexual and intimate needs.

Findings from the research highlight how sex and intimacy are important factors in the overall health and wellbeing of older people, however many experience barriers when talking about such issues with their partners, friends and health professionals.

The study has also found that age-related stereotypes can prevent older people from seeking and receiving the appropriate care for a sexual concern.

To challenge the taboo and raise awareness of the importance of sex and intimate relationships to older people, Dr Hinchliff is now collaborating with the renowned Sheffield-based artist Pete McKee – known for his distinctive style and evocative images – to produce a series of artworks.

Dr Hinchliff said: “We know that many older adults enjoy sex and intimacy, and both are important factors in their quality of life, however our global research has found that they often face barriers when it comes to talking about this with partners, friends and healthcare professionals.

“Relationships are central to human life. One of the most important relationships we have is that with our intimate other but our findings show that stereotypes about ageing can interfere with older people’s sexual expression and enjoyment. We’ve also found that these stereotypes and a lack of awareness are preventing older people from receiving help for a sexual concern.”

The series of artworks is set to be unveiled in an exhibition that is part of the University’s Festival of the Mind – a 10 day city-wide festival showcasing some of the latest pioneering research from the University of Sheffield.

Pete McKee, who is producing the artworks, is known for creating images that can make people laugh out loud or break their heart. His iconic style has led to a growing international fan base and collaborations with Noel Gallagher, Rega, XFM, Richard Hawley, Disney, ACME Studios, Warp Films and Arctic Monkeys.

Pete McKee added: “If I am totally honest I wasn’t aware this is something that is an issue, however I was shocked to hear some of the stories Sharron had found while doing her research. I would hate to think that anyone would feel discriminated against for a health problem and that this might affect people’s relationships, so I was delighted to be asked to take part in this project. Hopefully the work we have created will get people talking more and maybe with a sense of humour about it too.”

The Age of Love exhibition launches on 20 September 2018 and runs each day until the festival closes on 30 September.

For tickets and venue information, visit:

Additional information

The University of Sheffield

With almost 29,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2018 and for the last eight years has been ranked in the top five UK universities for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.


For further information please contact:

Sean Barton
Media Relations Officer
University of Sheffield
0114 222 9852