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Despite the fact that seniors today are living longer, more active lives that include close personal relationships and even sex, many younger family members are surprised to learn that an older loved one is sexually active. In our society, sex among older people has either been the stuff of jokes, or is ignored altogether. But, increasingly, researchers are finding that today's older adults are disproving the myth that we lose interest in sex as we get older.
People of all ages can appreciate the companionship and intimacy of a close relationship. Being older doesn't make one different emotionally. In fact, seniors who are in close relationships live longer, healthier and more fulfilling lives. According to one study, people with good friends and confidantes outlived those without close relationships by 22 percent.
The physical component of a relationship can be just as important to older adults as it is to younger people. According to the National Council on Aging, nearly half of Americans age 60 or older are sexually active at least once a month. Nearly two out of five are satisfied with their sex lives, while another 39 percent said they wished they had sex more frequently. Nearly one in four sexually active men and 70 percent of sexually active women over 60 said they were as satisfied or more satisfied with their sex lives now than when they were in their 40s.
Many older individuals today are single for the first time in many years, due to divorce, the loss of a spouse or partner, or other reasons. As a result, they find themselves dating in a very different world from the last time they were "on the market." Despite widespread education about sexually transmitted diseases, older daters may see contraceptives as exclusively for preventing pregnancy. They fail to see the role some contraceptives have in preventing the spread of disease and are less likely to see themselves at risk of infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people in midlife and older are at significant risk for HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
According to an AARP survey, more men and women in midlife and older are turning to health professionals to improve or maintain their sexual health. However, many older Americans fail to talk openly with their health professionals about their sex lives as part of their overall health. As a result, they do not get treatment for illnesses that affect their sexual health, or worse, combine treatments for chronic disease with sexual enhancers with dangerous, even deadly results. Patients and physicians alike need to be more willing to discuss intimate relationships as a natural component of aging.
What if a loved one is in a nursing home? The need for intimacy doesn't get checked at the door. Facilities have long been struggling with the role that sexuality plays among their consumers. As baby boomers age and bring their 1950s and 1960s attitudes about sex with them to the facilities, management is finding positive, new ways to deal with sex. The key issues are privacy, health, appropriateness and, in the case of patients with dementia, consent. The most effective solution so far has been communication and education, though families and facility staff will continue to grapple with these issues for years to come.