November 10, 2020

Sex and Seniors


The title of this post may generate extra views and spam. Mention sex, and virtually everyone perks up. Even though sex is required for the continuation of the species and is a natural and normal activity as part of a healthy life, the subject comes with tremendous baggage. Some of that baggage is cultural, some religious, some from lack of information, and some from too much information.

Why am I writing about this subject? Because it is a subject that is important but pretty much ignored in the retirement blogging world.

If you are reading for a gratuitous thrill or titillation, you will be disappointed. I am not discussing specific activities, body parts, or anything that may shock you. There will be no YouTube video clip. My intention is a mature discussion, not a wink and snickers interaction.

The questions are really simple: What role does sex play in a relationship as we age? How important is it? How does it change over the years? Is there a way to maintain a romantic feeling without active sex? A change in public perceptions and the place of sex in relationships that don't require marriage means this subject can affect all of us. Single, widowed, married...it doesn't change the importance.

Plenty of studies indicate that our improved health allows for sexual activity to extend well into our later years. Common wisdom used to be that "senior citizens" didn't engage in sexual activity after a certain age, often by 60. But, recent studies rebuke that. In fact, a federal study released a few years ago found that at least a quarter of respondents still were sexually active in their 70's and 80's. The decline in sexual activity can be traced as much to being alone after the death of a partner as to physical or psychological reasons.

It is true that sexual activity does taper down for many in their late 50's. But, it certainly doesn't have to stop. There may be changes in the type of activities undertaken, but total cessation is usually not necessary.

There are obvious physical changes that happen to our bodies. Embarrassment over sags and bags can prevent someone from feeling comfortable during lovemaking. Male and female bodies may not perform the way we want them to as we age. While pills or other medications can help, the result isn't as natural or spontaneous as we remember.

So, what should be done? What can be done?

The most important answer is no different when you are 60 or 70 than when you were 20 or 30: become engaged in sexual activity for the right reasons, like love and companionship, not become someone wants you to or you feel you are "supposed to."  From what I have read, the pressure to have sex doesn't stop just because a certain birthday is reached. And, that type of pressure is wrong at any age.

Your doctor can determine if you are healthy enough for any type of sexual activity. Various medications can be prescribed if the need is indicated. Probably every single one of us would be hesitant to discuss this with a doctor. But, I think you will find your physician understands how important sex can be to your emotional and physical well-being so they should be strongly supportive.

Other web sites dealing with this subject offer plenty of options for maintaining the physical or romantic side of a relationship even if sexual activity is not possible. Holding hands while walking or cuddling on the sofa while watching a movie together allows for the power of touch. Hugging and kissing can be quite pleasant at any age.

Having a regular "date night" could mean a meal at a favorite restaurant (maybe not at the moment, but you get the drift)  followed by a walk together while holding hands and window shopping. Or, it could mean shutting off the computers and cell phones, lighting a few candles while dimming the lights, and watching a movie together at home. The key is to make time to be with each other without interruptions. Sex doesn't have to be on the menu for a date night to be memorable and meaningful.

The web site romanceclass had an excellent summary of the way to think about non-sexual romantic activities: "Intimacy is all about two people forming a connection and bond between them. That involves becoming best friends, trusting each other, knowing each other, understanding each other. A couple holding hands and sitting together quietly, watching a sunset, can be FAR more intimate and connected than sex. Intimacy is grown and developed; it can't be rushed."

Absolutely. I guess if I throw in my 2 cents worth (and I probably should), keeping the romance alive is a very important part of a satisfying retirement. If it involves fulfilling, consensual sexual activity that is great. If it involves looking into each other's eyes, holding hands, giving a shoulder rub after a tough day, or simply giving your full attention when your partner wants to talk, that will heighten your intimacy and satisfaction every bit as much.

One thing we can be thankful for: the pressure to perform in one way, and one way only, is something most of us left back in our youth. Life and love are so much richer when you engage all your senses and your mind instead of just your body.


If you'd like some additional thoughts, this is a good web article: Sex As You Age.

Now, wasn't it nice to not think about a virus for a few minutes!


Note: a heartfelt thank you to all the expressions of concern and support in the comment section of the last post, Goodbye Dear Bailey. It meant a lot to Betty and me that you shared your experiences and let us know we were not alone in our feelings of loss and pain.

12 comments:

  1. You are right Bob for some reason I don't feel comfortable talking/writing about this subject but it's an important one. Thanks for having the courage to post it.

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    1. Our country has an attitude toward this basic human instinct that is potentially harmful. Like anything else, there are certain "rules" and guidelines for proper use. We get in trouble when ignore the consequences and responsibilities that come with it. But, in and off itself, it is a gift.

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  2. Dear Bob and Friends, unfortunately society's really twisted preoccupation with (non-reproductive) sex has big-time messed up this planet. Here and abroad, we buy stuff that's junk to begin with, in order to appear sexy, then shortly after, to the landfill with it. Next month, it's off to the store, for more tinny.
    Maybe, just maybe, the Lord put those really strict rules about sex (only a man and his wife) in place, because partly, He knew that amusement-park sex (doing the deed with...well anybody, or anything) would do a real number in trashing the planet.

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    1. It's irresponsible use trashes lives, too. Sex is powerful and needs to given the respect it deserves. But, too often those of us in our older years buy into the advertising model that says only young people should enjoy it. Asa this post points out, sex can take many forms and most of them are possible regardless of our age.

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  3. I worked in the “sex trade” for years. LOL! I worked at Planned Parenthood and also in Labor and Delivery nursing as a nurse practitioner! Sexuality is a GIFT ! It’s there for us at every age! We learn to appreciate different and new ways of expressing and enjoying this gift,through the life cycle!! Americans are definitely uptight about sex!! I hope all people reading this blog appreciate how beautiful our bodes are and how much pleasure we can still have.. one way or another! We are older and WISER! Great post,Bob!

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    1. Getting older means we must adapt to the changes in our bodies, energy level, and desires. Importantly, as you note, that is normal and natural. We adapt to so many differences over the course of our lives, why should sex be any different.

      What constitutes sex also adjusts as we age. What qualifies is a lot more than what we think that word means when we are in our 20's or 30's.

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  4. There's a joke about sex and seniors likening sex to riding a bike. If you get to a certain age and aren't engaging in sex or bike riding, it's due to one of three reasons: you never learned how to begin with; someone saw you doing it one time and said you looked silly; you don't have a bike! The importance of touch can't be overrated. I go months without a hug from loved ones because geographical distance separates us. Since the onset of the pandemic, there aren't even hugs between friends. I realize how much I rely on my massage therapist to provide some skin-to-skin contact. Like many things, our sexuality evolves with time. Like Madeline, I worked in the "sex trade" teaching human sexuality in schools in my public health nurse capacity. One of my goals was to teach the students that sex was a privilege and a responsibility.

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    1. Human touch is very powerful in creating good feelings. As you note, the last 8 months of lockdowns and pandemics have shut off many of us from the joy of hugs and simply touching another human. When someone lives far away from family and is fearful of even having close contact with a friend, I am sure mood and overall health suffers.

      I am a hugger; Covid has been tough for me.

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  5. I agree with all of your points and can only add -- and I know how lucky I am, and I am extremely thankful -- that it helps to be married at this age.

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  6. Bob, thanks for tackling this tough topic. I’m sure it is a very big part of seniors’ relationship issues but one that is almost never addressed. As a related side note: until a few years ago, in my creative writing I never mentioned sex or even alluded to it for reasons of modesty and just feeling awkward writing about the topic. But in my current novel in progress, sex has made an appearance (in a limited, non-gratuitous way, I hope). Perhaps it is because as a person ages, he/she becomes freer to talk about things that seem difficult or socially prohibited when younger. Being able to speak one’s mind is a great plus of becoming older!

    Jude

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    1. For something so natural it has always amazed me how mysterious and forbidden the subject matter is. Maybe it is so many years of life speaking, but when I see movies or TV shows where characters ruin their lives or make sex such a central part of their activities, I feel like screaming, "it feels good but it isn't that big a deal and certainly not worth wrecking your life over. Make it a part of your life, not the Holy Grail of your life."

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