Unit 4: Changes in sexual practice and intimacy

The need for intimacy is ageless. Studies confirm that no matter a person’s gender or age, they can enjoy sex for as long as they wish. Naturally, sex at 70 or 80 may not be like it is at 20 or 30—but in some ways it can be better. As an older adult, people may feel wiser than they were in their earlier years, and know what works best for them when it comes to their sex life. Older people often have a great deal more self-confidence and self-awareness, and feel released from the unrealistic ideals of youth and prejudices of others. Moreover, with children grown and work less demanding, couples can be better able to relax and enjoy one another more without the same life distractions.

  Introduction 

The need for intimacy is ageless. Studies confirm that no matter a person’s gender or age, they can enjoy sex for as long as they wish. Naturally, sex at 70 or 80 may not be like it is at 20 or 30—but in some ways it can be better. As an older adult, people may feel wiser than they were in their earlier years, and know what works best for them when it comes to their sex life. Older people often have a great deal more self-confidence and self-awareness, and feel released from the unrealistic ideals of youth and prejudices of others. Moreover, with children grown and work less demanding, couples can be better able to relax and enjoy one another more without the same life distractions.

Nonetheless, it is not uncommon for many adults to worry about sex in their later years, and end up turning away from sexual encounters. Some older adults feel embarrassed, either by their aging bodies or by their “performance,” while others are affected by illness or loss of a partner. Without accurate information and an open mind, a temporary situation can turn into a permanent one. People can avoid letting this happen by being proactive. Whether they are seeking to restart or improve their sex life. Thus, it is important to be ready to try new things, and to ask for professional help if necessary. There is much people can do to compensate for the normal changes that come with aging. With proper information and support, people’s later years can be an exciting time to explore both the emotional and sensual aspects of their sexuality (Block et. al., 2016).

  Key message

  • The desire for intimacy does not decrease with age, and there is no age at which intimacy, including physical intimacy, is inappropriate.
  • Disorders and emotional changes that often occur with aging can interfere with developing and maintaining an intimate relationship. Aging can also change the way intimacy is expressed.
  • Age-related changes: Levels of sex hormones decrease, causing changes (eg, vaginal atrophy) that make sexual intercourse uncomfortable or difficult. Libido may decrease.

  Learning outcomes

At the end of this unit students are expected to:

  1. Be aware that the desire for intimacy and sexual expression may change for older people, but does not diminish with ageing.
  2. Understand that older people may face particular barriers to discussing initmacy and sexual health with health and social care practitioners.
  3. Be aware of considerations that can be discussed with older people to help empower them to enjoy intimacy and sexual health.

  Content

 

Tips for enjoying a healthy sex life as people get older

Sex can be a powerful emotional experience and a great tool for protecting or improving health, and it is certainly not only for the young. Sex over the age of 50 can present challenges and people may feel discouraged by issues connected with the aging process, but these problems are not insurmountable. With better understanding and an open mind, people can continue to enjoy a physically and emotionally fulfilling sex life, since it is not a question of age, but of desire.

 

Accept and celebrate who you are.
  • Reaping the benefits of experience. The independence and self-confidence that comes with age can be very attractive to a spouse or potential partners. No matter a person’s gender, they may feel better about their body at 62 or 72 than they did at 22. Moreover, it is likely that they now know more about them-self and what makes them excited and happy. In addition, experience and self-possession can make their sex life exciting for both them and their partner.
  • Looking ahead with a positive approach. As people age, they often have negative expectations around their sex life and how it may change. This can be undermining and people may need reminding that if they enjoyed an active sex life in younger years, there is no reason for that to change, unless they want it to. A positive attitude and open mind can go a long way toward improving older peoples approach to intimacy and their sex life.
  • Love and appreciate the older self. It is nature for peoples’ bodies to change as they age. While this is obvious and should not be unexpected, for some people it can challenge their feelings of self-esteem and self-worth. 
  • Naturally, your body is going through changes as you age. You look and feel differently than you did when you were younger. But if you can accept these changes as natural and hold your head up high, you’ll not only feel better, you’ll also be more attractive to others. Confidence and honesty garner the respect of others—and can be sexy and appealing (Block et. al., 2016).

 

Communicate with your partner

As bodies and feelings change over the age of 50, it is more important than ever to communicate thoughts, fears, and desires with partners. Encouraging older people to communicate with their partner is therefore of vital importance. Speaking openly about sex may not come easily, but improving communication can help both partners feel closer, and can make sex more pleasurable.

Talking about sex

Broaching the subject of sex can be difficult for some people, but it should get easier once people begin. For example, they may find that just talking about sex can make them feel sexy. The following strategies can help older people to begin the conversation.

  •  Be playful. Being playful can make communication about sex a lot easier. Use humour, gentle teasing, and even tickling to lighten the mood.
  •  Be honest. Honesty fosters trust and relaxes both partners—and can be very attractive. Let your partner know how you are feeling and what you hope for in a sex life.
  •  Discuss new ideas. If you want to try something new, discuss it with your partner, and be open to his or her ideas, too. The senior years—with more time and fewer distractions—can be a time of creativity and passion.
  •  You may belong to a generation in which sex was a taboo subject. But talking openly about your needs, desires, and concerns with your partner can make you closer—and help you both enjoy sex and intimacy (Block, et. al., 2016).

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This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein