Seniors and Sexuality: Making Love for a Lifetime (Part I)
We are sexual beings, throughout the lifespan. This includes the later years of life, which are often overlooked in discussions of sexuality. In this 3-part article I want to address some misconceptions about aging and sexuality; report some survey information on sexual behavior among seniors; describe physical, psychological and medical changes that may accompany aging; and suggest positive and affirming ways for seniors to continue to enjoy their sexuality to the fullest.
Sexuality and Aging -- Myths
Many cultural "truths" convey the message that sexuality is for the young. If seniors are interested in sex there is something wrong with that. How many of the following myths and stereotypes have you heard?
Older people don't have sex, don't want sex, don't think about sex.
It's perverted for an older person to have sexual thoughts; perhaps he is a "dirty old man".
Women don't want sex, aren't interested in sex, and are only going along with what men want.
When you get "old", you can't have sex.
Sex is for younger adults. (I saw a cross-stitched sampler once which said "Kissing don't last - cooking do".)
If you can't have sex like a porn star, you have no business trying it at all.
These are all misleading and incorrect stereotypes. It is important to recognize that sexuality is a central part of healthy living - all our lives!
Survey Information: What's Happening Out There?
Three recent national surveys of older Americans have focused on sexuality and sexual behavior. "Healthy Sexuality and Vital Aging" (1998) was funded by Pfizer and sponsored by the National Council on the Aging (NCOA) and surveyed over 1300 people. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) sponsored national surveys in 1999 and again in 2004. "Sexuality at Midlife and Beyond" looked at a nationally representative group of 1700 adults aged 45 and older.
The NCOA survey found that almost half of seniors over sixty are sexually active; 39% want sex more often. The majority of respondents reported having sex less often now than when they were in their forties - 82% of men and 63% of women.
61% of men and 62% of women find sex equal to or more physically satisfying than it was in their forties. With regard to emotional satisfaction, 76% of men and 69% of women found sex to be at least as emotionally satisfying as in their forties.
72% of men and 47% of women consider sex important to their relationship with their partner. Men, however, were more than twice as likely as women to report wanting sex more frequently. This was true in all age segments - even in men 80 and older.
The AARP study found that the proportion of men who've tried potency-enhancing medicines, hormones, or other treatments has doubled since 1999. The majority (68%) report the treatments have increased their sexual satisfaction. Their wives also reported increased pleasure for themselves.
63% of men and women with partners described themselves as either extremely satisfied or somewhat satisfied with their sex lives. 51% of men and women surveyed reported having sexual thoughts, fantasies, or erotic dreams at least once a week.
50% of women in the 45-49 age range reported that they masturbate; 20% of women 70 and older said they masturbated. A majority of all women - even those 70-plus - told AARP that self-stimulation is an important part of sexual pleasure at any age.
Both these surveys, based on scientifically randomized samples, indicate that seniors are having sex, thinking about sex, enjoying sex - and taking steps to increase their enjoyment and pleasure. Clearly sexuality is important to older Americans, contrary to popular stereotypes!