Sunday, January 15, 2006


Sexuality is important to the quality of life of the older adult, and, quite contrary to what many believe, most elderly people have sexual desires-they are not asexual. In fact, one study of a sample of 800 persons age 60-90 found that age may have advantages for sexual expression. In this study, 36 percent of the respondents said that their sex life had improved since they were young, whereas only 25 percent said that it was less satisfactory.
Eighty percent stated that they remained sexually active, most had intercourse once a week or more, and people who were active sexually felt that sex was more spontaneous because they were free of the pressures and interruptions of family obligations. Having leisure time available for lovemaking was also considered an advantage. The majority concurred that sex was an important part of life for older couples.
An enjoyable, active sex life in earlier years increases the likelihood of continued positive sexual expression in later years. Sex in age is recreational rather than reproductive, and sexual arousal and behavior need not necessarily be aimed at achieving orgasm because it may simply fulfill the human need for warmth, physical closeness, and intimacy. While researchers observe that lack of a partner is the greatest restraint on sexual activity in late life, health problems (rather than any inherent lack of interest) can cause sexual difficulties in both older men and women. Diabetes may cause impotence; cardiac disease can make intercourse exhausting; hypothyroidism may diminish libido; arthritis may make sexual contact painful; senile vaginitis may cause pain during intercourse and itching in the vaginal area; pelvic relaxation may interfere with sexual function. Other factors, such as a prostatectomy, mastectomy, hysterectomy, or simple fear that intercourse will harm or kill the sex partner can also hinder activity. Frequently, too, sexual difficulties have no physical origin but result from the abuse of alcohol, drugs, or tobacco. Most of these problems can be treated.
Hypothyroidism and vaginitis can generally be medically treated. Pelvic relaxation can be corrected surgically, and a heart-attack (myocardial infarction or congestive heart failure) victim can generally resume sexual activities within four to six weeks. Psychological problems can be more difficult to treat, but a variety of therapies are available for treating them.
Experts disclaim the still-prevalent myths about asexuality in aging. Sexual expression through intercourse, touching, stroking, embracing, or even masturbating can have broad therapeutic benefits in age as well as in earlier life. Experts insist that older people are not physically unattractive and undesirable, that sex in age is not shameful or perverse, and that masturbation, which has been naively thought by some to cause brain damage, may be the only release available to the elderly.
People who consider sexual activity to have value in age urge a change in public attitudes. They call for greater acceptance of sexual behavior and expression in the older generation-terms like D.O.M. (dirty old man) or D.O.W. (dirty old woman) are out of place in modern times-and feel that public displays of affection (holding hands while walking down the street, for example) by older people have charm as well as value for demonstrating the revival of intimate love in late life.
Atchley, R. C. Social Forces and Aging. 4th ed. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1985.
Rossman, I. Clinical Geriatrics. 3rd ed. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1986.
Starr, B. D., and Weiner, M. B. The Starr- Weiner Report on Sex and Sexuality in the Mature Years. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981.
Steinberg, F. U. Care of the Geriatric Patient, 6th ed. St. Louis: C. V. Mosby Co., 1983.


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