Sex and Aging… seriously

Originally posted on the Dialogues Network at the National Sexuality Resource Center. 

How do you know an issue is serious and deserves greater attention?
Well, when Jon Stewart makes fun of it on the Daily Show, of course.

This clip is hilarious, and it also goes a long way towards recognizing
seniors as sexual beings, showing that some aging adults are already
getting involved in promoting healthier behaviors–and exposing that
some elders definitely need some educational advice (especially when it
comes to the dreaded disease cunnilinguism), before they die from
herpes. Which is where the NSRC steps in.

This spring, the National Sexuality Resource Center is delving into
an exciting new project, rounding out our commitment to healthy
sexuality throughout the lifespan by examining the sexuality needs of
aging adults. A fantastic team of MPH interns from SF State’s Health
Education department are right now developing a pilot needs assessment
looking at how elders in assisted living programs are or are not
supported in terms of sexual health.

Seniors are having sex: as Stacy Lindau’s groundbreaking 2007
study(published in the New England Journal of Medicine) revealed, most
people ages 57 to 85 think of sexuality as an important part of life
and the frequency of sexual activity, for those who are active,
declines only slightly from the 50s to the early 70s (Lindau , 2007).
According to the CDC, the proportion of older HIV-positive individuals
in the US has climbed from 20% to 25% and numbers of cases have risen
in all 5-year age bands from 45 years to 65 years and older–11% of
2006 incident cases are in older individuals. In spite of this, only
38% of men and 22% of women reported having discussed sex with a
physician since the age of fifty (Lindau, 2007). Healthy sexuality
greatly contribute to the intimacy needs, health and wellbeing of
individuals and couples—a connection made as early as 2001 in Surgeon
General David Satcher’s 2001 Call to Action for Sexual Health. When
sexuality is ignored and untended it contributes to poorer health
outcomes through increased incidence of STIs and HIV.

Almost one
million seniors already live in assisted living programs, according to
the National Center on Assisted Living. As more healthy, active—and
sexual—seniors move into assisted living programs, caregivers and
facilities will increasingly face issues of how to promote the rights
of seniors as sexual beings, how to talk about sexual issues (with
seniors, their families and other staff), and how to negotiate this new
sexual territory as the providers and facilitators of healthcare.
Careful research assessment is needed to identify barriers, and to
develop interventions that effectively address these barriers and put
seniors in assisted living facilities on the path to healthier

One crucial part of our initiative is simply raising
awareness–seniors know they are having sex, but no one else wants to
think about it. We have to get funders, policymakers, caregivers and
family members to start recognizing the importance of supporting
seniors’ sexual health needs.

Thanks to Jon Stewart and his team for putting this on the
radar–and look for more serious data, research and interventions from
the NSRC in the months to come.

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  • invalid-0

    Goodness! Forget about the so-called teenage sex epidemic, it’s the seniors who are out of control! Somebody get on the line to the NAEA, before these hoary horndogs destroy our civilization with their so-called “making whoopee!”

    • invalid-0

      seniors who are out of control..ha ha, nice one ! funny , but true

  • invalid-0

    I’ve been a certified Nurses Aide for almost 15 years and have worked in several nursing homes and have done in-home care. Over the years I’ve met many co-workers that have totally freaked out over the idea of a elderly man masturbating in the privacy of his own room or a married couple that share a room even having intercourse. Many seem to assume that because someone hits a certain age that all sexuality or sexual feelings stop and just drop dead which is far from the case! Part of my training in becoming certifed was dealing with the sexuality of the elderly and that many still have sexual feelings and in deed do still have sex. I think maybe the educators that train nurses aides should maybe focus a little more time and attention on this aspect of our jobs because I feel that they are short changing our residents/clients by not bringing home the point that just because they are aged doesn’t mean they don’t still have those feelings, needs and the right to privacy WITH dignity. Thanks again for your article!

  • nsrc

     Your comment highlights exactly why the NSRC is so interested in this issue. We would love to hear more about your experience grappling with seniors’ sexuality–if you would like to share more, please feel free to contact us!



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