Seniors and Sex: Counsel from an Expert

Jul 27th, 2011 | By Sharon Shaw Elrod MSW EdD | Category: Senior Moments Blog

SCJ Senior Editor and CEO, Sharon Shaw Elrod, MSW, EdD, is Guest Editor for Senior Moments today.

During one of my professional incarnations about three decades ago, I enjoyed a practice in counseling and psychotherapy, specializing in sex education and therapy.  I was an early pioneer in the field and helped bring sexual issues out of the closet in Omaha, Nebraska.  Since retirement, I let my membership in The American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists lapse.  The certificates still hang on my wall in the library, mostly because my grandchildren love to show people ‘proof’ that Gammy was once a sex therapist.

So let’s talk about sex today.  Sex and senior citizens, that is.  Many of us seniors find a declining interest in sex as we age, and that’s rather normal.  Our hormones have a huge influence on our sexual response, and the hormones that induced the raging interest in sex at 20 simply aren’t there anymore.  Unless there have been serious medical conditions that shut down sexual interest/response altogether, however, some level of interest in sexual activity remains for many of us.  And that is also normal.

So what can we expect with sexual activity in our senior years, and what influences our response?

  1. Influences first.  Sexual response begins to decline in men in their 20s, and not until in their 40s/50s for women.  That is hormonally driven.  It is also socially driven.  Some of us seniors grew up in the time when sex was a dirty word, and we never found permission to enjoy it.  That’s very sad.  Other influences on our sex drive as seniors include having experienced sexual assault or abuse of one degree or another (a very common occurrence in the years when we were children and teens), medications, endocrine and hormone imbalances and issues, education, cultural and social mores and religious beliefs.  These influences can have either a positive or negative effect on our sexual response as seniors.
  2. Sexual activity for many seniors is both physical and emotional.  Sex is an expression of affection and love.  It is also fun!  Since seniors no longer have the agility to engage in sexual intercourse like we did when we were younger, we often experience loving touching and fondling just as satisfying as intercourse once was.  This is due to the emotional component of sexual activity.  We feel a shared love with our partner/spouse when we engage in loving touch.  It’s a part of our sexual experience now in our senior years, and the emotional response is as important to us (sometimes more important) as the physical.
  3. Some seniors make a mutual decision to forgo physical sexual activity for many reasons, primary of which is usually medical.  A physician has wisely counseled a person/couple to cease sexual  activity for medical reasons and safety.  It’s important to remember that that does not mean expressions of love and affection are ignored.  When seniors hear the ‘stop sex’ advice from their physician, the non-sexual expressions of love and affection may need to be stepped up.  We all thrive knowing we’re loved unconditionally by someone in the world.  The affection shared between a couple who are no longer able to experience physical sexual activity is critical to their well being, both physically and emotionally.

There is probably a lot more that can be said about senior sex, and SCJ is very willing to keep the subject on the front burner.  We are aware that differences occur within a relationship… one wants more physical sex, and the other wants/needs/is capable of less.  Such differences in needs and capabilities provokes additional concerns and issues.

So send us your comments.  Ask your questions.  Let’s begin a dialogue! With your encouragement, we will continue to address senior sex.

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