Many people assume that as we get older, we lose interest in sex. After all, grandma and grandpa aren’t ‘doing it,’ are they?!! Much to our shock, they may be—and sociological research shows that older persons in fulfilling sexual relationships are happier and healthier than their celibate peers. In fact, the number one reason that older people give for not having sex is that they don’t have a partner.
Part of the problem is demographic. As we get older, the ratio of men to women decreases. Men die an average of seven years younger than women. This factor, coupled with data that show women partnering with men an average of two years older, leads to an excess of older women without sexual partners. So, what’s the solution? Some women have female partners, thus sex differences in mortality rates, or rates of death, don’t affect them as much. Does this mean that grandma should find a female partner? Probably not; if she wasn’t a lesbian to begin with, she isn’t likely to suddenly become attracted to women as she gets older.
While TV glamorizes the cougar—the older woman who goes after younger men—many older women aren’t interested in doing this. They may not find younger men that interesting, and have little in common with them. Many women feel self-conscious because of their aging bodies, or they may have been raised to believe that older persons shouldn’t be sexual, or that women shouldn’t go after younger men. In addition, the media portrays younger women as sex objects and older women as asexual (not interested in sex), so grandma may be confused by her lustful, sexual feelings. She may be ashamed of having sexual desires in her sixties, seventies, eighties, or beyond.
What about grandpa? If he is widowed or divorced, he may find himself the object of dinner invitations and increased female attention. Because men become scarcer as we age, he may suddenly have a wealth of women to choose from. Like his female counterparts, however, he may feel self-conscious of his aging body, or may find that sexual performance becomes more difficult. While it is true that older men in our society are viewed as more desirable than older women, grandpa may worry that he is perceived as a ‘dirty old man,’ and may decide to cut himself off from romantic or sexual companionship.
Older gay men have experiences similar to those of heterosexual women. As they age, they compete for a limited pool of men, and may be embarrassed about the changes aging has brought to their bodies. They may fear being ridiculed or stereotyped, and may be suspicious of younger men who show interest. Just like others, they may become isolated or lonely.
Because of our tendency to view elders as asexual, adult children and grandchildren may be appalled to discover that their parents or grandparents are having sex, and may be disapproving or non-supportive. Moreover, many managed care facilities and nursing homes make no provision for couples desiring privacy, and even actively discourage sexual relationships. Peers of the same age may ridicule or tease sexually active older people, at least partly because of envy!
The fact is that most of us, regardless of our sexuality or age group, enjoy physical contact with others, as well as knowing that our friends and family are supportive of our relationships. Just as we desire other types of contact as we age, many of us desire sexual contact. Perhaps it is time to discard our stereotypes of sexless seniors, and instead realize that they have sexual desires similar to younger people. Just as they deserve our respect in other areas, they deserve respect regarding their sexual choices.