How does physical, emotional, and spiritual intimacy affect the mental health of older adults? Can participation in collective religious gatherings or sexual activity provide older adults with a sense of acceptance and belonging to a community? Due to the potential ability of these two activities to spark an individual's spirit through social interaction, I analyze how both religion and sexual activity affect states of depression among older adults. I propose that church attendance and sexual activity negatively correlate with levels of depression because they both provide meaning and a sense of belonging in relation to the ideas of collective effervescence as proposed by Emile Durkheim. To probe this hypothesis, I analyze data from NSHAP, the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project, a nationally representative survey of adults ages 57-85 about their overall mental, physical, and sexual health and practices. I found that those who attend church services often and those who engage in sexual activity in combination with other forms of intimacy lower depression. These results suggest that both religious attendance and sexual activity can tie an individual to a larger community in similar ways.
Ganong, Kathryn, "Church, Sex, and Communal Bonds: How Religion and Sexual Activity Affect the Mental Health of Older Adults" (2010). Honors Projects. Paper 24.
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