Sexuality in older age

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Sexuality in older age concerns the sexual drive of people who are in middle age and those who are in old age. While the human body has some limits on the maximum age for reproduction, sexual activity can be performed or experienced well into the later years of life.

Increasing physical limitations[edit]

Both male and female libidos tend to decline with increasing age and women tend to lose their libido faster than men. However, this is not to say the desire for sexual activity is lost completely or that it decreases for everyone. Menopause, a female biological process, has been linked to a loss of interest in sexual activity and to a desensitisation of the genital area.[1] In some cases, vaginal penetration can be painful for older women (see, for example, vaginismus).[2] However, with the advent of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) treatments, the effects of the menopause have lessened and women have more opportunities to continue to experience an active sex life. Similarly, treatments for erectile dysfunction can make it possible for men to enjoy sexual activity again.

Despite the aging of the population, little is known about the sexual behaviors and sexual function of older people. One survey investigated the prevalence of sexual activity, behaviors, and problems in a national probability sample of 3005 U.S. adults (1550 women and 1455 men) 57 to 85 years of age and the association of these variables with age and health status.[3]

Health benefits[edit]

It has been suggested that an active sex life can increase longevity among the elderly. Sexually transmitted infections (STDs/STIs) can also be prevalent in later life, despite common misconceptions that STDs only affect younger people groups. There has been a steady increase in the number of STDs found in elderly individuals in nursing homes and other residential living communities, belying the perception that elderly people do not engage in sexual activity.[4] Many men in older age do not believe they need to use protection, such as condoms, as they age, and their partners often feel likewise, so it can be difficult to stress the importance of continued use of protection for elderly couples.[5]

Social attitudes[edit]

Sex between elderly people is often treated as a taboo by society. While sexual activity itself is a sensitive topic due to its private nature, sexual activity between seniors is often treated with extra care. This attitude is especially common among younger people and it has been suggested that this may be caused by younger people's belief that the lust and ability to have sex diminishes once the primary reason for sex is no longer present.[6]

Even though the topic may be taboo or denied, sexuality in older age gains visibility in the public sphere: media refute seniors' presumed asexuality (see these Huffington Post articles about senior sexuality and sex toys), promote "active" and "healthy" sexuality among the elderly (e.g. BBC News), and address issues such as sexuality in retirement homes and assisted living facilities (for example in the Daily Mail). These representations create in turn social injunctions that position sexual activity as a marker of fulfillment,[7] a discourse already affecting younger people and amplified by various products, pills, and available medical treatments.

Research conducted in the social sciences changes the miserable depiction often made of elders' sexuality.[8] Quantitative and qualitative studies show that sexual satisfaction can improve with age, and present data such as: half of women are sexually active into old age;[9] widows either stop any kind of sexual activity, find a new male partner, or choose to not reproduce the same kind of relationship where they take care of a man, instead entering into a nonresidential relationship with a man or in a relationship with another woman, for example;[10] women and gay men sustain the most pressure to live up to beauty ideals associated with youth;[11] LGBT people suffer from invisibility in retirement homes and assisted living facilities.[12]

Representation in film and television[edit]

To many, the 1985-1992 sitcom The Golden Girls was groundbreaking in its depiction of healthy active sexual lifestyles and frank sexual discussion among seniors.

The concept of active sexual relationships between older people has in recent years become a more mainstream topic. The film Something's Gotta Give starring Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton explores the relationship that develops between two people in later life.

The HBO series Tell Me You Love Me has caused controversy by showing several explicit sex scenes involving two senior citizen actors on the show, Jane Alexander and David Selby. Presently old aged sex is understood and increasingly accepted in society.[citation needed]

On a related topic, intergenerational relationships, also quite taboo, were the focus of the film Gerontophilia (between a very old and a very young man), and in the last years many TV shows represented "cougars" (middle age women with younger men), for example The Cougar and Cougar Town.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Sexual psychophysiology and effects of sildenafil citrate in oestrogenised women with acquired genital arousal disorder and impaired orgasm: A randomised controlled trial".
  2. ^ Dennerstein, L.; Dudley, E.; & Burger, H. (2001). "Are changes in sexual functioning during midlife due to aging or menopause?" (PDF). Fertility and sterility 76 (3): 456–460. doi:10.1016/s0015-0282(01)01978-1. Retrieved 2013-07-23. dyspareunia 
  3. ^ The National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP)
  4. ^ "Sexually Transmitted Disease Rates Rise Among the Elderly: Why?". CBS News.
  5. ^ "Old Age 'Tsar' Promotes Sex". BBC News. 2001-09-13. Retrieved 2006-12-01. 
  6. ^ Heath, H (2000). "Sexuality and Continence in Older Women". Elderly Care (3): 32–34. 
  7. ^ Bessin, M., Blidon, M. (2011). Déprises sexuelles : penser le vieillissement et la sexualité. Genre, sexualité & société 6 (online).
  8. ^ Bessin, M., Blidon, M. (2011). Déprises sexuelles : penser le vieillissement et la sexualité. Genre, sexualité & société 6 (online).
  9. ^ Trompeter S. E., Bettencourt R., Barrett-Connor, E. (2012). Sexual Activity and Satisfaction in Healthy Communitydwelling Older Women. The American Journal of Medicine 125(1): 37-43.
  10. ^ Plaud, C., Sommier, B. (2011). Veuves joyeuses ou honteuses ? Sexualité ou a-sexualité après 60 ans suite à la perte du conjoint. Genre, sexualité & société 6 (online).
  11. ^ Slevin, K. F., Linneman, T. J., (2010). Old Gay Men’s Bodies and Masculinities. Men and Masculinities 12: 483-507.
  12. ^ Chamberland, L. (2003). “Plus on Vieillit, Moins Ça Paraît” : Femmes Âgées, Lesbiennes Invisibles. Canadian Journal of Community Mental Health 22(2): 85- 103.