Stereotypes About Aging: The Importance of Sex Among Aging Adults
by: Kristin Tomlinson
Most people understand that caring for the elderly is a task where we often fall short of success. There are many preconceived feelings we have regarding the elderly, that are considered stereotypes. I wonder how many of the stereotypes regarding the geriatric population hold truth and how many are simply misconceptions. One stereotype I have heard surrounding elderly people is their sexual drive and need to interact in sexual activity and intercourse. The stereotype regarding this topic, is simply that older people do not have a sexual drive, so they do not have as much sex. Since this is a common belief, people often assume that older people have no sexual desires, rights, and needs.
The reason there is this stigma around the sexual appetite of older people could be largely due to the media around the world. Society often associates sex and lust with youth and beauty among a younger generation (Roach, 2014). “The physical appearance of older people does not fit with societies view of attractiveness,” Roach says in her writing, Sexual Behaviour of Nursing Home Residents: Staff Perceptions and Responses. In this reading a study was conducted that ultimately refuses the stereotype that sexual needs are not important among older people (Roach, 2014).
In this writing, a study was conducted in order to see the affect that the beliefs regarding sex have on the sexual behavior of residents in nursing homes. The research method used is survey and grounded theory approach that collected self-reports from staff on sexual activity within nursing homes; along with naturalistic observations of the sexual activity in the nursing home (Roach, 2014). In this study 30 women of the staff of nursing homes in Australia and Sweden volunteered to be interviewed about the subject of sex, and their comfortability and view of its presence in the nursing homes (Roach, 2014). The results of this study show that the level of comfortability that the nurses felt directly impacted the amount of sexual behavior that was performed with their residence. Roach explains that sexual needs are rights just like any of the other basic rights that nursing homes strive to facilitate and encourage. This research study shows that if older people are in an open and comfortable environment of people then they are more likely to exercise their sexual desires (Roach, 2014).
This study disproved the stereotype that older people no longer have sexual needs and desires. It was proven that if the elderly are in an environment with people that support their sexuality, then they are likely to act upon their sexual desires by interacting in sexual activity (Roach, 2014). This show that the sex drive is still very prevalent among older people, and they will be more likely to act upon it if they don’t feel stigmatized.
Building off of the idea that cultural beliefs effect the comfortability in elderly sexuality, an extreme was tested in the next study that analyzes sexuality among elderly Iranian women. The participants in this study are 15 married Iranian women over the age of 60. The method used is qualitative content analysis, that collected self-reports from elderly women on their view of sexuality at their age (Ravanipour, Gharibi, Gharibi, 2013).
This study is a different because the sexual activity performed by these women relied more heavily on satisfying the sexual needs of their husbands than their own. The authors write, “Liking or disliking, a woman’s responsibility is to be at the service of her husband. Satisfying a husband’s sexual needs is the most important duty of a woman.” (Ravanipour, Gharibi, Gharibi, 2013) This changes the results because in other cultures, individual desires are equal to those of a spouse. However, the results are still relevant because the sexual desires of both the women and their husband are discussed by these Iranian women (Ravanipour, Gharibi, Gharibi, 2013).
The results of this study surprisingly support the belief that sexual desire decreases with age. The women interviewed admitted that their sexual drive had decreased from when they were younger. These women were much more interested and focused on their religious and spiritual growth and activities at this time in their life (Ravanipour, Gharibi, Gharibi, 2013). They wish to satisfy their husband, but they are not getting as much personal satisfaction from their sexual activity. The study also explains that one of the reasons for sexual decrease is because of changes that occur due to aging that often make sexual intercourse painful and unpleasant for women (Ravanipour, Gharibi, Gharibi, 2013).
It is important to also dig deeper in these results, and realize that only women were interviewed in this study. Although these women admitted their desire to have sex with their husband decreased with age, they expressed that they still will perform sexually to satisfy their husbands (Ravanipour, Gharibi, Gharibi, 2013). This must mean that there is still a strong sexual desire from these women’s husbands because they are still requesting sex. This expresses that
this article refutes and supports the stigma of elderly people no longer having sexual desire.
The frequency of sexual desire and activity was also analyzed in a study conducted by C. M. Gott in the writing, Sexual Activity and Risk Taking Later in Life. The study was performed in order to monitor the sexual activity among people over 50 in the UK, to determine the sex drive among them. Using Sheffield electoral register, 1800 households were contacted in order to find 335 people over the age of 50, to be questioned about their sex lives (Gott, 2001). The experimental method is again a survey that is allowing for self-reports from the participants.
The study’s conclusion is that over 80% of the interviewees are sexually active at this time in their life. This study refutes the stereotype that elderly people are asexual, by proving that sex is occurring in the vast majority of older people. The participants agreed that there is a stigma surrounding sexual activity at their age. Interviewees explained that older people are not as open about their sexual activity due to this, but it could still be ocurring (Gott, 2001).
A separate study was performed by Merryn Gott and Sharron Hinchliff in order to see what more can be discovered about this stigma from the geriatric population. The study was performed in order to eradicate the asexual stereotype surrounding the elderly by going straight to the source and analyzing the elderly themselves. The majority of data is taken from 44 participants ages 50-92. The research methods used include, semi-structured interviews and quantitative data retrieval (Gott, Hinchliff, 2017). The results of this study both support and refute the stereotype.
Two main conclusions were gathered from this study’s findings. One, sex remains an important part of life even in old age, within emotional/long term relationships. “Hook up culture” seems to subside with age, and sex without the emotional aspect becomes less of a priority (Gott, Hinchliff, 2017). This aspect of the study refutes the stigma that the elderly population is asexual. However, the second conclusion proves otherwise. It is also outlined in the study that sex becomes more difficult with age because of health complications that impede the ability to have sexual intercourse. This piece of information expresses that the desire to have sex could still be present, but the ability to perform may be hindered due to health complications that come with age (Gott, Hinchliff, 2017).
The four research articles discussed show me that there is some truth behind the original conclusion that people become asexual at the end of their life, since there are reports supporting this and proof of health complications. However, it is important for us to get rid of this negative stigma because there still is a sexual desire among the elderly that needs to be acknowledged and encouraged. Maybe if we get rid of this stereotype, then we will see positive growth in sexual activity among older adults.
Roach, S. M. (2014, October). Sexual Behaviour of Nursing Home Residents: Staff Perceptions and Responses. JAN , 48(4), 371-379.
Gott, C. M. (2001). Sexual activity and risk-taking in later life. Health and Social Care in the Community, 9(2), 72–78.
Ravanipour, M., Gharibi, T., & Gharibi, T. (2013). Elderly women’s views about sexual desire during old age: A qualitative study. Sexuality and Disability, 31(2), 179–188.
Gott, M., & Hinchliff, S. (2017). How important is sex in later life? The views of older people. Social Science & Medicine, 56(8), 1617–1628.