Many societal attitudes about aging need to change. Among these attitudes are the ones we have towards sex and seniors. It’s time we stop cringing at the thought of our grandparents’ sex lives, put aside our ageist perceptions, and come to terms with the facts: Seniors are human beings and it’s completely natural and healthy for them to have consensual sex.
To better understand this topic, it’s essential to separate the facts from falsehoods. Although many of us choose to believe seniors aren’t having sex, a UK study reports that more than half (54%) of men and almost a third (31%) of women aged 70 and older are still sexually active.
In support of the emotional, mental and physical wellbeing of our residents, several of Seasons health and wellness managers and Brenda D’Alimonte, the Regional Manager of Care Services, provides insight to help debunk seven common myths about seniors and sex.
Myth: Seniors don’t have sex.
Reality: Many seniors re-enter the dating scene after losing their spouse, leading to other intimate connections and sexual relationships.
Because nearly 1 in 3 Canadians, 85 and older live in a community residence with members of the opposite sex, it’s easier to meet new people and begin relationships. Brenda says seniors engaging in sex are often in exclusive romantic relationships and don’t have multiple partners.
Myth: The desire for sex decreases with age.
Reality: Research suggests that sex is no less pleasurable with age.
As we grow older our physical health tends to decline, but there are ways to intercept these changes and have healthy, consensual sex. For example, the use of lubricants and increased foreplay can help overcome physical barriers. Brenda reiterates that “Even if you experience a few limitations, you shouldn’t completely disregard sex. Sex can include petting, touching or kissing. To ensure each person’s needs are met, communication is key. Remember there are usually solutions to every perceived problem.”
Myth: Seniors don’t need to worry about STI’s.
Reality: STI’s don’t discriminate based on age. The STI rate among seniors continues to rise because they aren’t using protection.
Since a majority of women aren’t able to become pregnant, seniors find it unnecessary to use protection. Adult children, caregivers and healthcare professionals may not be asking seniors about their sex lives or teaching them how to go about it safely. Brenda says. “Even though it may be an uncomfortable topic to discuss with a parent or loved one, it’s important we accept that seniors have sex. They need to know they have support and that there are available resources.”
Myth: Seniors are educated about safe sex.
Reality: Our health and wellness managers agree that seniors aren’t generally educated about the risks associated with unprotected sex.
Ontario’s sexual education curriculum introduces students to the proper names for genitalia by Grade 1, the physical changes of puberty in Grade 4. and how to prevent sexually transmitted infections in Grade 7. Yet it seems like there are few educational programs for the senior population, who didn’t have sex-ed in their curriculum growing up. Consequently, Brenda says older couples may not know how to put a condom on or may feel embarrassed to ask their health care professionals about proper application.
Myth: Sex isn’t as important in relationships as you age.
Reality: At any age, physical, intimate connections are important in romantic relationships.
However, relationship satisfaction is based on more than sexual functioning and frequency. An emotional connection is also key in relationships, as is communication. Brenda says, “Many senior couples report that their sex lives are better than ever before. This is likely because, at retirement age, they have more time. Meaning they don’t have to rush or worry about family members interrupting them. It can be more spontaneous. Also, I think another reason older couples have satisfying sex is that they tend to be more concerned about how they feel, rather than how they look.”
Myth: Erectile dysfunction is uncommon.
Reality: A man’s testosterone decreases every year beginning at age 25.
As a result, erectile dysfunction (ED) is common among older men. Aside from age, other factors like poor diets and sedentary lifestyles can impact ED.
Our health and wellness managers say it’s important that seniors feel comfortable discussing treatment options with health professionals. Doing so ensures it’s safe for them and doesn’t interfere with other medications or physical conditions.
Myth: Seniors don’t masturbate.
Reality: Masturbation is a natural behavior which people often condemn in retirement and assisted living settings.
The truth is, some residents no longer have partners and aren’t interested in pursuing romantic relationships. Brenda says, “Men and women are often labeled and shamed if they are known to be masturbating. Healthcare professionals and caregivers must remember that masturbation is healthy. Likewise, implementing better solutions protects the dignity of residents. Giving seniors privacy to do what is natural for them is essential.”
By 2031, experts predict that nearly 1 in 4 Canadians will be 65 and older. Shifting demographics and changing lifestyles call for more inclusive approaches to health care. In addition, it also calls for changes in how we talk about seniors and sex in general.