Aging and sexuality may not be widely considered, but there are plenty of discussions happening. Just like when we were younger, misinformation can really complicate things. Here are 5 myths about older adults and sexuality:
- Sex doesn’t matter. Not only is it a normal part of life, but sex is a basic human need.
- Interest in sex is abnormal. Although individual topics may be uncomfortable or best kept discreet, interest in sex does not end with midlife. Many research studies indicate the only reason a smaller percentage of women over 70 have sex is because of a partner-gap, not lack of interest.
- Seniors don’t have to use condoms because there’s no risk of pregnancy. People 50 and older were 17% of the new HIV cases in 2015. Sexually transmitted disease risks apply to all age groups.
- Remarriage after widow/widower-hood should be discouraged. Every situation is individual. In olden-times women needed to remarry, but modern times find women “whole” with successful careers and lives. People need to consider financial implications of pensions and insurances, and a pre-nup may be appropriate – but why discourage it?
- It’s alright for older men to be with younger women, but not vice versa. This is a double-standard and a myth that women have publicly dispelled in recent years (e.g. CougarTown and other programs).
5 Laws of Human Nature: Older Adults & Sexuality
As a gerontologist, I’ve studied human development and aging for more than 25 years. Here are some observations, taken from real life and supported by research:
- Need of intimacy and contact with others is a basic human need.
- Individual perceptions of “appropriate” are as varied as are the number of humans.
- Even if something is “normal,” some people need to be reminded that not everything is acceptable in all settings.
- Just because people are older, doesn’t mean they’re always better at communicating than younger people.
- Older people think they know about sex (since they’ve got years of experience), but don’t always realize that risk factors still apply to them.
What Changes Do Seniors Often Face?
Most age-related challenges can be corrected with the right information and your doctor’s advice.
- With menopause, women have a major reduction in sex hormones like estrogen, progesterone and androgen.
- Less vaginal lubrication and thinning and loss of elasticity in the vagina can make sex painful for women – this can be managed.
- Certain medical conditions can lead to erectile dysfunction (ED) for men, for instance, diabetes. Prostate problems or traumatic injury can interrupt the connection between the central nervous system and the penis, causing ED.
- Certain medications can have ED as a side effect (some to treat arthritis, high blood pressure and depression).
- Depression is very common in seniors, and can lead to challenges with sexual performance for men and women. Lifestyle factors such as smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, as well as stress can have an impact on performance.
When to Talk to Your Doctor
- Medications and treatments to manage ED should NOT be used with “nitrates” such as nitro glycerin.
- Unstable cardiac conditions or other medical concerns should get clearance from MD
- Poor mobility/flexibility, diminished strength/endurance
- If sex hurts
- Trouble managing emotional issues