By: Andrea Brodey, ECI social worker:
As our population ages, the topic of aging and sexuality has become increasingly relevant. Society has long seen sexuality as a young persons’ domain. Both the public and medical professionals can be dismissive and uncomfortable with the idea that older people often still desire sexuality and intimacy. Despite societal stereotypes and misconceptions, older adults continue to experience desires and sexual needs well into their later years.
Embracing the reality of aging and sexuality is crucial to fostering a more
inclusive and compassionate society that recognizes and respects the diverse sexual experiences of seniors. This blog explores the challenges and opportunities surrounding aging and sexuality in our society.
Challenging Ageism and Stereotypes
One of the main obstacles to understanding aging and sexuality is the
pervasive ageism in society. If we adopt the idea that sexuality has no
expiration date, we can move to see sexual relationships quite differently.
Sexuality and intimacy are not reserved for the Hollywood version of young,
healthy, and beautiful. As well, sex is not just for procreation either.
Many people hold assumptions that older adults lose interest in or are
incapable of engaging in sexual relationships. Stereotypes like these not
only marginalize seniors but are unhelpful in fostering intimate connections
for seniors who are deserving of, and capable of continued enjoyment of
Physical and Psychological Changes
As we age, changes, both physical and psychological, can influence our
sexual experiences. Physical conditions like menopause (including reduced
libido, vaginal dryness, mood changes, and shortened vaginal floor),
erectile dysfunction, or chronic illnesses may pose challenges but do not
zero out an individual’s interest and capacity for sexual expression. Having
a healthcare system that understands, addresses, and supports these
changes will help to improve sexuality and intimacy. Better communication
in this realm is so important to patient / clinician connection and building
comfort in addressing this important topic.
Benefits to Seniors
Maintaining a fulfilling sex life in older age has shown to have numerous
benefits for emotional and physical well-being. Sexual intimacy can promote relaxation, provide pain relief (ironically even a headache), support
better sleep, and help to reduce depression. Apparently, kissing can even
positively influence cholesterol levels. The promotion of dating for seniors is
also lacking and should be addressed. Recognizing the importance of
intimacy for seniors can help to change our views on how we support, treat,
and view sexuality.
Inclusivity for our LGBTQ+ Seniors
The experiences of LGBTQ+ seniors deserve special attention here as they
often face additional challenges, and discrimination in expressing their
sexuality. Many of our seniors today still struggle to be open about their
identities as they have endured discrimination and stigma for most of their
lifetime. Ensuring inclusivity and sensitivity in senior care homes,
healthcare, and support networks is crucial in creating safe spaces for
LGBTQ+ seniors to feel comfortable in expressing their sexuality.
It is crucial for our society to address this intersection of ageing and
sexuality. It is vital that we challenge ageism and stereotypes to support
seniors by creating a society that is more inclusive, aware, and open. It is
so important to recognize and to embracing intimacy across all ages,
ensuring that older adults are valued and respected in all aspects of their