It’s Time We Stopped Looking At Older People As ‘Sexless’ – They Have Desires Too

Is sexuality only something for the younger generation? Don't older people feel the desires to have sex or be aroused?

Is sexuality only something for the younger generation? Don’t older people feel the desire to have sex or be aroused? 

The term sexuality is basically defined as the capacity to have sexual feeling, including the person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, intimacy, eroticism and social aspects of sex. Expression of sexuality is integral to development.

There is a constant youth driven narrative on how we see sex and intimacy. Surging hormones and beauty being the chief factors for receiving love and sex have been exhausted narratives that should be moulded into more age friendly narratives.

Ageism and sexuality

Ageism (a concept formulated by Robert Neil Butler) is basically the stereotyping and discrimination against individuals of particular age groups; especially seniors, adolescents and children with underlying concepts of racism and sexism in play.

Due to constant reinforcements, older people have started to internalise these prejudices. This leads to them being at the receiving end of questions, criticism and low self-esteem. Add to this the implicit subconscious thoughts that people have towards perceiving elder people. The thoughts that are mostly inclined towards the negative rather than positive ones.

“Dirty old men and women who think and talk about sex and are still horny”, these lines have plagued various conversations and representations of old men and women in various cultures. And they always end up being the centre of ridicule for wanting to satisfy needs that cannot be considered age specific. How can any dictum be put forth which sets an upper age limit on having sex?

Myths surrounding people of the geriatric age

One of the most common myths is that elderly people do not desire sex. On the contrary, a majority of the population over 60 years of age love sexual activity. The aspect of attractiveness is repeatedly reinforced and they are often considered as a major drawback for sexual intimacy.

The representations of elderly women and men in print as well as visual media have been largely steeped in a muddle of over-generalisation and preconceived notions.

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Older women are portrayed as celestial beings with no desire for sex or any form of intimacy from their spouses. Their sole duty is taking care of their grandchildren and the well being of the family.

At the same time, men are either seen as celibate or with dirty sexual desires towards younger women with no morals or shame.

Elders of the LGBTQIA+ community are seldom even represented.

The Love Vs Sex false dichotomy

Young adults generally view their fathers and mothers as being devoid of any sexual desire after their birth and this perception increases as they age.

There is no form of privacy for the elderly at their own homes as they are mostly not provided separate rooms. What’s more is that, such desires are often looked upon with disgust.

Love that stands the test of time and elderly love is always cherished. Couples who have been together for the years are always looked at with awe. But intimacy or sex among the same couples or among any elderly is shunned and looked upon with shame.

Even though love among women and men who have undergone divorce or any form of separation is portrayed sensitively, their sex lives are neglected.

A need to understand geriatric sexuality

Elderly people have gone through all the processes in relation to sexuality when they were young and hence sexual arousal, fantasies and desire are unlikely to drastically drop.

Many hormonal issues and types of sexual dysfunction among the young are considered curable. However, when it comes to older people, they are not given the attention they need, neither is there any research on the same.

In 2016, the psychiatry department of the Lokmanya Tilak Municipality Medical College in Mumbai conducted a research on people between the ages of 80 and 102. According to the research, the participants believed touching and caressing was the most common form of sexual intimacy.

Available data suggest that elder men and women consider sexuality an important aspect of their lives (cuddling, foreplay, vaginal intercourse, oral sex and masturbation). This is at the similar frequency and in tune with younger adults despite decrease in sexual vigour. Health related issues, marital issues, gender and societal perception play an important role in the decline of sexuality.

Sexual changes in older men

Men undergo a decline in testosterone levels with age. However, in many cases, this does not hamper sexual interest and activity. This, despite more time and greater stimulation being needed for arousal, orgasm, and a significantly longer refractory period.

Currently, there are no conclusive data to suggest that hormonal changes significantly impact sexuality in healthy older men.

A survey of 1031 men between 30 and 99 years of age found not a single respondent reporting a complete absence of sexual interest. Older men preferred intercourse over other forms of sexual activity despite reporting insufficient erectile frequency, duration, and rigidity.  More importantly, erectile failure is not the norm among older men and when it does occur, it is often treatable.

Sexual changes among older women

Women undergo changes in sexual function with age as well, starting around the time of menopause. They have decreased vaginal lubrication and thinning of the vaginal epithelium that lead to dyspareunia.

This could be the underlying cause of the reported decline in sexual function in older women. It is easily treatable with vaginal lubricants or estrogen supplementation.

Research into female sexuality in older age has long reported a severe decline in sexual interest and activity in women. However, studies often compare sexual activity of older women with men, rather than with their own previous level of sexual activity or with that of younger women.

Other design flaws include equating sexual activity solely with vaginal intercourse. Not accounting for those who have suffered the loss of partner.

Women generally outlive men and marital status is correlated with continuing sexual activity in women.

A radical change on how sexuality is viewed in respect to the elderly is of paramount importance. And a drastic improvement in the medical as well as the socio cultural perspective is needed.

Picture credits: YouTube

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