May 18, 2022
“We do it every night,” teases an elderly couple in a current TV ad. They are referring to the dishwasher pods they use nightly, but viewers are led to believe they’re talking about regular sexual activity. Another commercial hawking fabric softener features a young man who – to his horror – has caught his grandparents in wrinkled clothes, suggesting they’ve recently had a roll in the hay.
Both of these patronizing ads (and others like it) are intended to grab our attention by grossing us out. Old people having sex? Ew.
But regardless of unfair societal biases, research and anecdotal evidence confirm that regular sexual activity is normal, healthy and desired well into advanced age.
Common Misconceptions About Seniors and Sex
A prevalent perception in our ageist society is that sex is the sole dominion of the young. Admittedly, most of us don’t want to imagine our parents in the throes of passion, but humans are sexual beings all throughout our lives, and the benefits of physical intimacy may be even more advantageous as we age.
Seniors can’t perform anymore
According to a survey from the National Poll on Healthy Aging, 40 percent of people between 65 and 80 are sexually active. While our bodies naturally change as we age, the desire for sexual intimacy is still very much intact. Desire alone is often enough to assure activity, and even when it’s not, there are multiple treatments seniors can seek to address physical limitations.
It’s not important anymore
An AARP survey found that nearly two-thirds of seniors were still interested in sex. Furthermore, a study from the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University revealed that the majority of men and women between 50 and 80 are enthusiastic about sex and physical closeness.
While there is some evidence that older men who have sex once or more per week are more likely to suffer cardiovascular events than those who are sexually inactive, “the possibility of having a heart attack during sexual activity is extremely low,” said Dr. Michael Blaha, director of clinical research at the John Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease. Another study revealed that even for those seniors who have had a heart attack, only two or three in 10,000 will experience another one during sex.
It’s totally safe
While pregnancy is no longer a risk among older adults, sexually transmitted diseases are actually on the rise among seniors. It is crucial to practice safe sex all throughout life.
Emotional Benefits of Sex for Seniors
The death of loved ones, decreased mobility and other factors make seniors more at risk for loneliness and depression than other populations. Sexual activity or close physical contact with another person provides the critical human touch we all need, especially seniors who are susceptible to debilitating isolation. “No one wants to be lonely, especially as they age,” said a residence counselor in a Chicago senior community. “Nothing brings me more joy than seeing seniors who have lost their spouse get a second chance at continued happiness.”
Physical Benefits of Sex for Seniors
As with any form of physical exertion in moderation, sexual activity can build strength and mobility, burn fat, reduce stress, improve sleep, heart and lung function, and boost the immune system. For women, sex into advanced age has been found to lower the risk of hypertension. For both men and women, it releases endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, as well as naturally produced sex hormones. “Use it or lose it,” said geriatrics expert and author Dr. Walter M. Bortz, punctuating the belief among his peers that the biological changes associated with aging are less pronounced if sexual activity is constant throughout life. Sexual intimacy has also been linked to minimizing incontinence and lowering the risk of prostate cancer.
Addressing Age-Related Limitations
Erectile dysfunction in men and vaginal dryness in women are two common age-related issues for which there are widely successful treatment options. Sildenafil citrate medications like Viagra, Cialis and Levitra are often prescribed to combat impotence in men. For women, a variety of water-based lubricants are available as well as estrogen and other hormone therapies. While seniors (who may have grown up believing sex is a taboo subject) are often hesitant to talk to their doctors about sexual dysfunction – and doctors too rarely ask about their patients’ sex lives – the conversation should be had. Some medications (like anti-depressants, for example) impede sexual function; yet sometimes, anti-depressants can successfully treat a psychological basis for sexual dysfunction. Only a trained medical professional can properly diagnose, prescribe and manage proper treatment options.
Why Sex May Actually Be Better with Age
For many seniors, long gone are the days when too little time, too little privacy, and too many interruptions got in the way of having sex. Seniors are often free to do what they want, when they want. Work, children, and other distractions are often no longer impediments for older adults. Seniors also tend to know what they want after years of life experience and have the confidence to express it. As more time and opportunity pave the way for more fulfilling personal relationships in general, sex too can become newly important. On the other hand, seniors seem to understand that intimacy is about more than just intercourse. Holding hands, kissing, lying close to one another, caressing, and other signs of affection are every bit as important as the “score” they may have sought in their youth.
Sex and Senior Living
“Sometimes adult children are taken aback by their parents’ interest in love and sex, but it is a normal human interest that does not necessarily end when an older person becomes widowed, divorced or separated,” said Linda Sterthous, Barclay Friends executive director. Acknowledging that tricky situations can arise if one or both partners have dementia, Sterthous notes that administrators and nurses in a senior setting can provide guidance to be sure no one is being improperly taken advantage of. “It is not uncommon for older people to find romance in a senior living community, whether independent living, assisted living or even in a nursing home.”
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