Meeting Minutes - Tuuli Kukkonen: Aging and Sexual Arousal - Oct. 26th. 2017
This meeting took place at Trinity United Church starting at 9:58 am with 43 members in attendance. President Ed Herold chaired the meeting and opened by welcoming all present with a special welcome to our guest speaker, Tuuli Kukkonen. Also welcomed were two new membership applicants, Mike Morris and Len Bickerton. One new first-time guest was Jeff Ariss.
President Herold announced that there is a slightly new format starting today with our agenda structure. Beginning today we will have all announcements made at the beginning of the meeting with adjournment to take place at 11:00 am sharp. However, with the indulgence of the guest speaker, members can remain seated to ask any additional questions not yet answered. If still going at 11:10 the meeting will end.
Announcements Activities – Ray Biffis - Remembrance Day ceremonies will take place November 11th and there are sign-up sheets for anyone wishing to attend the luncheon at Diana’s Restaurant following the ceremonies. - Ron Durst will be presenting the memorial wreath on behalf of RCMC. - There are also sign-up sheets for the December 14th Christmas luncheon. - The caterer has been booked for the Anniversary lunch next April. - There is also a sheet to put down any suggestions for potential activities. Coffee Gathering: - Coffee at The Boathouse and at the Airpark Café at 10:00 on alternate Thursdays.
Next Meeting: Thursday, November 9, 2018 with David MacDonald speaking about Wounded Warriors of Canada.
Ed Herold introduced today’s guest speaker, Tuuli Kukkonen.
Tuuli Kukkonen is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition. Her research interests fall within the field of sexual psychophysiology, with a focus on the interaction between biological and psychosocial factors involved in sexual health and aging and sexual health. She received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from McGill University and completed her pre-doctoral internship at the Sex and Couple Therapy Service (Royal Victoria Hospital) and the Psychosocial Oncology Department (Montreal General Hospital) of the McGill University Health Centre
Dr. Tuuli Kukkonen on Aging and Sexual Arousal
Dr. Kukkonen stated that her research looked at the interaction between physical and psychological aspects of sexual well-being and sexual response in individuals. Peoples’ bodies are influenced by social factors, relationships, our psychological well-being, our culture and our history. We need to take all those social factors and psychological factors and determine the impact that physical response and physical experience have on sexual arousal for individuals. Dr. Kukkonen’s goal is to improve people's lives.
Masters and Johnson were the pioneers of measurement of human sexual response. Before them was a gynecologist, Robert Latou Dickinson (1861-1950), who did research of the female genitalia. Prior to this there was no way of exploring the female physiology. These and other researchers were the ones who conducted research and said there is a way to measure sexual response. This is really important if we are to have a better understanding of that physiology in order to understand how to interact in our social relationships. Masters and Johnson, published Human Sexual Response in 1966, and set the foundation for sex therapy and set the foundation for psychophysiology for the measurement of sexual arousal. This set the tone for understanding and classifying sexual dysfunctions. They looked at physiological indicators of sexual dysfunction. They noted similarities between male and female sexual response. Masters and Johnson were the first to look at sexual arousal across the lifespan. They wanted to know how sexual response changed as we age and what the impact of age is on sexual response.
They noted that sexual response persists throughout the lifespan. Due to mores of the day they weren’t able to publish their findings in regular academic journals. They noted that with age it takes longer to get sexually aroused, there was increased requirement of manual stimulation in order to have a stronger sexual response. They noted changes in vaginal lubrication for women and that the quantity of vaginal lubrication in women was less.
When we think about sex therapy, it wouldn’t be the same without Masters and Johnson. Before Masters and Johnson therapy really involved a lot of psychoanalysis and really intense treatments of talk therapy which wasn’t that successful. So, Masters and Johnson suggested that instead of treating individuals, they should be treated as a couple. They also paired therapists as a male and a female therapist working together. They pioneered the use of sensate focus that is still widely used today. They introduced graduated intimate touch by couples that isn’t sexual in nature but focused on pleasure of the body and of the partner’s body before moving on to sexual activity. Their model of sexual response became the foundation of classifying sexual dysfunctions.
Dr. Kukkonen then went on to talk to us about what is known about aging and sexual activity such as aging factors to consider for men and women, including hormones, genital changes, physical, psychological and social considerations. She talked about the degree of sexual activity in seniors and sex and the single senior.
The degree of sex education is a factor that influences the degree of sexual satisfaction and a lot of that depends on the generation of the individual. Generally, the older the generation, the less formal sex education that was received. Health knowledge is also usually less. The question becomes how do we understand our sexual selves as we become older human beings.
The World Health Organization defines Sexual Health as “…a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.”
Sexual satisfaction results in higher quality of life satisfaction. There are a number of things that make up sexual satisfaction: life satisfaction, relationship satisfaction, mental and physical health and happiness. Research shows that sexual activity continues over the course of the lifetime and there is no reason to stop sexual activity due to age. With the advent of drugs for sexual dysfunction, it increased the span of sexual activity for men. New life styles such as retirement communities increased the opportunities for people to engage with others enabling them to meet new partners after the loss of a partner.
One recent researcher has looked at optimal sexual satisfaction for couples in older ages. She does qualitative work and has found that what makes sex great is being authentic with your partner and making a strong connection with your partner. This leads to optimal sexual experiences. Also, good communication with your partner by talking about your likes, fantasies, wishes that you might have for sexual activity. This means that you have to be vulnerable, open and honest with your partner. You may have to explore and get out of your comfort zone. Deep intimacy with your partner and being fully present in the moment and engaged with your partner is also very important for individuals who say they are having fantastic sex.
So how does Tuuli's research fit into this? She is very much a quantitative psychologist and likes to measure. She wants to know how to measure these descriptors and take the comments and research and find out how does it actually impact what is going on in the body. We know there are changes going on in the body such as erectile dysfunction in men and in women and that sexual arousal decreases. There is only one post-menopausal study in in women in psychophysiology that looks at the relationship between physical and subjective sexual arousal. So, for women there is no research at all as to what happens in their body with respect to sexual response. So, what Dr. Kukkonen wants to do is to change that. She wants to learn more so that women can be better informed.
From 1969 to 2007 there were 132 studies that looked at measuring physical and self-reported sexual arousal in a lab and only five percent of them looked at adults who were in the age range of 50 – 59. Out of that five percent, i.e., seven of those studies, not a single one asked about sexual pleasure. So, what Dr. Kukkonen is trying to do is to bring in that measurement element.
What do we want to learn? We have individuals come in and try to measure sexual arousal in a lab. We have questionnaires to measure self-report. We have physical responses that can be looked at to measure heart rates, skin conductance, genital change, pupil dilation, brain activity, eye tracking and changes in hormonal levels. One of the arousal factors is genital change. The blood flow to the genitals is very specific to sexual arousal. So, this is the one that Dr. Kukkonen is really focused on in her lab.
Dr. Kukkonen explained the variety of methods and instruments for measuring sexual arousal. Her lab uses thermal imaging which looks at heat coming off the body. The increase in temperature is related to blood flow. She explained the many ways to measure and elicit sexual arousal in a lab. These are: still images, fantasy, narratives, audiovisual and vibrotactile. Since there is an ethics board that Dr. Kukkonen must report to, they do not have individuals touch themselves during this research.
The Psychophysiology of Sexual Health Research Laboratory (POSH) at the University of Guelph is run by Dr. Kukkonen. The funding is provided by Canadian Foundation for Innovation to build her lab and they are embarking on a number of very exciting studies.
In regards to older adults in comparison to younger groups, what has she found? After studying sexual arousal in these groups, she has found that there are actually no significant differences in the age groups. Everyone is reporting similar levels in enjoyment, relaxation, and peak self-reporting sexual arousal. There is no difference in age groups in reporting sexual arousal. However, when physical measurement is added, that’s where we start to see differences. There are significant differences across the age groups.
So, what’s accounting for this difference? Even though there are physical changes in the body it doesn’t mean there are psychological changes. Dr. Kukkonen’s research is now trying to answer that better. Why are we seeing these differences in terms of physical and subjective sexual arousal? What is the importance of sexual arousal? Does it play an important role at all? Does it play a different role for men than for women? The different physiological structure of the male and female genitalia need to be considered in order to measure these factors.
The other interesting thing is the idea of cognitive engagement. If there are those physical decreases, but self-report is still strong, is there a stronger cognitive piece and an engagement with sexual stimuli? Is that creating that difference?
Just recently Dr. Kukkonen has submitted a request for a grant to start looking into this study. What are those important factors with aging and how do they change? This needs to be answered in order to provide evidence-based information to address men and women in understanding sexual dysfunction.
Dr. Kukkonen ended her presentation on this note and thanked the Club for its interest in this topic.
Dr. Kukkonen responded to questions directed to her on her research.
Following her presentation, Julian Sale thanked Dr. Tuuli Kukkonen for her presentation and gave her a token of appreciation on behalf of the Club.