It’s that time of year when the stores put out heart shaped boxes of candy, cards in a sea of red & pink, and tubs of flowers. Valentine’s Day, the Hallmark holiday designed to stir up thoughts of love & romance. It’s the perfect time to discuss sexuality and aging.
There is very little focus in our society on the changes in one’s sexuality as we age. According to Dr. Neal Blangiardo, Professor in Human Sexuality at Brooklyn College, “the cultural fallacy about sexlessness as we age runs deep.” While people’s desire to remain sexually active as they age may wane due to physiological changes, disease, loss of one’s companion, depression, or cognitive impairment, most humans can actually remain sexually active until death.
Sexuality is “part of who we are…the ways our gender affects our roles in society, our self- image, and who we are as a person.” Dr. Blandgiardo likens it to a wheel with many spokes, even if you take one spoke away (e.g., your libido decreases), the wheel remains mostly intact.
There are resources on the web that provide information about some of the physiological changes one can expect to encounter with age. For women, hormonal shifts may result in vaginal dryness or hot flashes. For men, they may experience erectile dysfunction or an inability to achieve an erection. For these issues there are medicines and supplements that might help.
Other factors can affect one’s interest in sex with age. The medications one takes following surgeries or to help regulate certain medical conditions may interfere with one’s ability to enjoy sex. Mental health issues such as dementia or cognitive impairment may impact one’s sex life. Even retirement and subsequent worries about one’s financial well-being can impact one’s sex life.
While sex with age can bring challenges, there are also new freedoms. Women no longer need to worry about getting pregnant (but they do need to protect against possible sexually transmitted diseases). For some older adults who lose a spouse, they may enjoy dating new and diverse partners. Some people now feel free to explore their true sexual orientation and can identify as LGBTQ for the first time in their lives (Check out this resource for more on LGBTQ aging.) The plethora of information and access to books, movies, and even sex toys is unprecedented compared to when today’s seniors were coming of age. These resources can lead to more fulfilling sexual exploration for today’s older adults.