Sexuality in older age

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Exchange of affections among seniors in an old people's home

Sexuality in older age concerns the sexual drive, sexual activity and overall sexuality of people in middle age and those in old age, and the social perceptions about sexuality in older age. Older people engage in a variety of sexual acts from time to time for a variety of reasons. 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. Sexuality in older age is often considered a taboo, and this can affect how older individuals experience their sexuality.

Physical changes[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 ageing 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, but this attitude has gradually changed because a greater number of people are reaching 55 and above, and are remaining sexually active far into their senior years. The number of seniors in the United States and throughout the world continues to increase rapidly. Back in 1930, less than 6 percent of the U.S. population was over 65 years old. By 1950, the number was 8 percent. By 2015, that number has risen to almost 15 percent. Population experts at the U.S. Bureau of the Census expect the percentage to continue to rise dramatically during the next 20 years, eventually reaching 21 percent by 2050, which is more than one in five. The number of seniors in the United States and throughout the world continues to increase rapidly.[6][7]

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 a perceived primary reason for sex is no longer present.[8]

Even though the topic may be taboo or denied, sexuality in older age has gained visibility in the media.[9][10] Some sources promote "active" and "healthy" sexuality among the elderly,[11] or address issues such as sexuality in retirement homes and assisted living facilities.[12] These representations create in turn social injunctions that position sexual activity as a marker of fulfillment,[13] 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.[14] Quantitative and qualitative studies show that sexual satisfaction can improve with age, and they present data such as the following. Half of women are sexually active into old age.[15] Widows either stop any kind of sexual activity, find a new male partner, or choose not to 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.[16] Women and gay men sustain the most pressure to live up to beauty ideals associated with youth.[17] LGBT people suffer from invisibility in retirement homes and assisted-living facilities.[18]

Representation in film and television[edit]

To many, 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.


  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. ^ [1]
  7. ^ [2]
  8. ^ Heath, H (2000). "Sexuality and Continence in Older Women". Elderly Care (3): 32–34. 
  9. ^ senior sexuality
  10. ^ sex toys
  11. ^ BBC News
  12. ^ Daily Mail.
  13. ^ Bessin, M., Blidon, M. (2011). Déprises sexuelles : penser le vieillissement et la sexualité. Genre, sexualité & société 6 (online).
  14. ^ Bessin, M., Blidon, M. (2011). Déprises sexuelles : penser le vieillissement et la sexualité. Genre, sexualité & société 6 (online).
  15. ^ 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. doi:10.1016/j.amjmed.2011.07.036. 
  16. ^ 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).
  17. ^ Slevin, K. F.; Linneman, T. J. (2010). "Old Gay Men's Bodies and Masculinities". Men and Masculinities. 12: 483–507. doi:10.1177/1097184x08325225. 
  18. ^ Chamberland, L (2003). "Plus on Vieillit, Moins Ça Paraît" : Femmes Âgées, Lesbiennes Invisibles". Canadian Journal of Community Mental Health. 22 (2): 85–103. doi:10.7870/cjcmh-2003-0016.