Module 1 - Sexuality and the third age
Tony Ryan, Sharron Hinchliff
We know that many older people are sexually active, although reports highlight that the frequency is often reduced in comparison to younger cohorts. We also know that the meaning of sexual activity can become broader with age; that older adults do not straightforwardly equate sex with penis-vagina intercourse, and thus sex encompasses activities that younger people may not view as sexual.
Ageing is not simply a set of physical changes which occur at the level of the body. Ageing should also be understood at the level of the social and psychological. As we age the role we play in families, the economy and within social networks changes. The way society views us also changes. This unit will consider the social construction of the ageing process and raise questions for the impact this may have on the sexuality of older people.
Active ageing has become a central feature of social and health policy across Europe in recent years. Building on earlier ideas which sought to promote successful ageing, active ageing is defined by WHO as:
‘the process of optimizing opportunities for health, participation and security in order to enhance quality of life as people age. It applies to both individuals and population groups.’
As people get older, they may experience changes in their sex lives. These include having less sex, having more sex, having sex in a different way than before, or with a different partner. Those in long-term relationships tend to report a reduction in sexual activities as they get older. Those in new relationships tend to report an increase.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or diseases (STDs) are passed from person to person usually through sexual contact (some can be passed on in other ways too, such as by sharing intravenous injecting needles). STIs can be passed on through many types of sexual activity (oral, vaginal, anal) although some (e.g. thrush) can occur in the absence of sex.
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