Aging and Sexuality

Although it is sometimes difficult to have an open, public national dialogue about aging and sexuality, the reality is that our sexual selves do not disappear after age sixty-five. People continue to enjoy sex—and not always safe sex—well into their later years. In fact, some research suggests that as many as one in five new cases of AIDS occurs in adults over sixty-five years old

In some ways, old age may be a time to enjoy sex more, not less. For women, the elder years can bring a sense of relief as the fear of an unwanted pregnancy is removed and the children are grown and taking care of themselves. However, while we have expanded the number of psycho-pharmaceuticals to address sexual dysfunction in men, it was not until recently that the medical field acknowledged the existence of female sexual dysfunctions. Additional treatments have been developed or applied to address sexual desire or dysfunction, which sometimes leads members of both sexes to believe that problems are easily resolved. But emotional and social factors play an important role, and medications on their own cannot resolve all issues.

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Aging and sexuality also concerns relationships between people of different ages, referred to as age-gap relationships by researchers. These types of relationships are certainly not confined to the elderly, but people often make assumptions about elderly people in romantic relationships with younger people (and vice versa). Research into age-gap relationships indicates that social pressure can have impacts on relationship commitment or lead to break ups. The life stages of the people can also have impacts, especially if one of them is elderly and the other is not. A relationship between a 30-year-old and a 45-year-old most likely involves fewer discussions about serious health issues and retirement decisions than one between a 55-year-old and a 70-year-old. Both have 15-year age gaps, but the circumstances are quite different.

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