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Physical intimacy among older couples

A study by Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and international collaborators reveals: physical intimacy and well-being in old age are closely linked

Kissing, touching, or cuddling - older couples who report more physical intimacy in their everyday lives also display better well-being. Yet, men and women experience this differently, and thus experiencing physical intimacy relates to their stress hormone levels in a different way.

Physical intimacy in the daily life of older couples rarely becomes a focus of scientific research. An international team of researchers from the United States, Canada, Switzerland, and Germany, including the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, analyzed data on physical intimacy experienced and wished for by couples aged 56 to 88 years. For the first time data has been collected in participants’ daily lives. The researchers were interested in the frequency of experiencing and wishing for physical intimacy, but also the links between physical intimacy and both emotions and stress hormones of the participants. By doing so, the study aimed at contributing to a better understanding of how well-being is related to daily routines in old age.

“Our findings demonstrate that everyday physical intimacy, for example touching, hugging or kissing, plays an important role for well-being among older couples”, says the first author of the study Karolina Kolodziejczak.

During one week, the study participants reported on their wishes for and experiences of physical intimacy several times per day. Simultaneously, they answered questions about their emotions at the given moment using iPads and collected saliva samples. Subsequently, the saliva samples were sent to a laboratory, where the stress hormone cortisol was assayed.

Results revealed that older couples wished for and experienced at least minimal forms of physical intimacy at the majority of the 42 measurement occasions within the study week. Thereby, the study provides much more detailed information than the previous reports examining whether older adults have experienced physical intimacy in the previous six to twelve months.

Another finding of the study was that men and women differed in terms of whether experiencing physical intimacy was related to their stress hormone levels or not. For women, experiencing physical intimacy was mainly related to their emotions, whereas men who experienced more physical intimacy additionally had lower stress hormone levels.


The study was published as advance article on March 14, 2022 by The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences.

Link to the article


Karolina Kolodziejczak
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Institut für Psychologie