Older adults have sex! Society’s view of late-life sexuality ranges from jokes to dislike to mere refusal in believing that people in their sixties, seventies, eighties and beyond have sexual desires or needs at all.
Studies show that sexual satisfaction contributes to one’s overall quality of life. While there are physiological age-related changes that occur in both men and women that could affect sexual spontaneity, many older people want and are able to have an active, satisfying sex life. Some changes within the aging body can change or complicate sexual expression. Likewise, declines in sexual functioning may occur, but desire and interest continue with age. Medications are available to treat sexual disfunction in both men and women, making it possible for people to remain sexually active late into life.
In order to embrace sexuality among older adults, it’s important to dispel many of the societal myths that continue to influence our beliefs on late-life sexuality.
Myth 1: Sex isn’t important as you age
Fact: Intimacy and sexual health are important regardless of age. Studies also show that older people do not lose interest in sex as they age. An article in The Guardian references a study reporting that 74% of women and 72% of men between the ages of 75-85 said that “satisfactory sex is essential to maintaining a relationship.”
Myth 2: Sex causes heart attacks
Fact: Director of clinical research at the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease says, “The possibility of having a heart attack during sexual activity is exceedingly low and shouldn’t scare you away….As long as you’re not experiencing any symptoms, it’s not worrisome.”
Myth 3: Older adults aren’t sexy or attractive
Fact: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. More importantly, sex is not strictly about looks. Our sexual desires are awakened by our partner’s personality or a romantic gesture. Arousal also occurs with passionate kissing and stroking.
Myth 4: Older adults shouldn’t have sex
Fact: An AARP article states, “We are clearly designed to live longer and better if we have an active sex life. Sexual contact correlates to better health, higher relationship satisfaction and easier stress management. So it is far from natural to stop wanting or having sex. Rather, our lives depend on us keeping our sexual energy and connection intact.”
Myth 5: Older adults are not at risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases
Fact: According to statistics released by the CDC in October 2019, STDs have risen sharply among older Americans. According to an article in Everyday Health, “the steep increases in STDs among older adults in the space of five years shows that Baby Boomers and the generation older than Boomers…have as much need to practice safe sex as their younger counterparts.”
This is not to say that there can’t be challenges that come with sexuality and aging. Sex therapists for older adults are trained individuals who understand the physiological and physical needs of people at different stages of life, specifically later years. Understanding why a couple’s sex life has changed or diminished is the first step toward improving it. Sex therapists are also trained to address age-specific sexual issues. Sex therapists can guide partners in discussions around sex and desire and provide intimacy building activities between sessions. Therapy can help demystify issues related to aging and sexuality or intimacy and provide clients with the tools for healthy sexuality. Sessions are priced similar to other forms of therapy and can be offered in person, over the phone or via virtual/video.
As Americans are living longer, it’s important to take the steps in ending the desexualization of older adults. Sex and intimacy between consenting adults are not only healthy, but appropriate at any age.