Older adults are consistently categorized as asexual, not being interested in romantic relationships, or sexual activities. However, inflicting these stereotypes on older adults can cause them to have a negative outlook on themselves. Older adults are already labeled with a variety of stereotypes due to the obsession people have with being young that adding to these stereotypes holds them back from any needs or desire they may have. This can lead to older adults feeling ashamed for wanting create new romantic relationships or become engaged in sexual activities. The following articles provide research that states how older adults are in fact interested in having a sexual life even during their later stage of life, discrediting the idea that older adults are asexual beings who do not desire to engage in sexual activity.
As people get older it becomes harder to find people to form relationships with, especially for older adults who go through a variety of life changes within a short span of time. Their network becomes smaller as loved ones pass away, as they retire from work, and move to new places intended to accommodate their new lifestyle. These changes make it harder for older adults to find a potential romantic partner. According to a study performed by Alterovitz and Mendelsohn (2011), older adults continue to have a desire to engage in romantic relationships even at an older age. They explain how older adults have turned to social media to find possible connections with other older adults–this is especially useful for them because of how small their social network might become. The study was intended to research the differences and similarities between what older adults look for in a partner versus what younger adults look for in their partners. The study included a random sampling of 600 different heterosexual men (300) and women (300). The study consisted of different age groups such 20 to 34 years-old, 40 to 54 years-old, 60 to 74 years-old, and 75-years-old and older (Alterovitz & Mendelsohn 2011). They were all from different ethnicities but for the most part were Caucasian. In the study, the participants are asked several questions asking what they look for in their ideal partners. These questions consist of age differences, social status, and physical attractiveness, plus 17 questions that go more into depth about their preferences.
The results show the consistency between men and women’s preferences throughout their lifetime, meaning that for the most part, their ideal partner do not change much from the span of being a young adult to being an older adult. In contradiction to what society believes, women continue to be desirable by men even at an older age even when their looks do not “align” with today’s obsession for looking young. However, how women look at themselves in older age can influence how desirable they might feel to others, so having negative stereotypes about their looks is detrimental to their desires. The study showed how throughout the lifespan men continue to look for younger partners and women look for older partners. The differences are that older women do not have a desire to be caretakers again, something that was more consistently found in younger adults. The only issue with this study is that it had a large sample of Caucasian therefore not showing diversity within its results—leaving out what older adults from different backgrounds look for in their partners (Alterovitz & Mendelsohn 2011).
As stated before, older adults continue to have sexual desires well into their older age. However, the subject of older adults having sexual relationships is almost frowned upon and unacceptable to younger people. They are seen as “too old” to want to engage in sexual activities. Older adults are forced to feel ashamed for having sexual needs as a result of living in a society that idolizes the young and scrutinizes old age. Through a series of case studies, Hillman (2011) was able to describe the importance of knowing how sexual activity affects older adults. She explained the several factors that contribute to older adults sexual activity from medical disadvantages to societal norms—these factors influence how older adults feel about their sexual desires and their willingness to engage in sexual activities.
One disadvantage older adults face are medical problems that affect their ability to perform in sexual activities due to old age. Examples of this are women going through menopause and men being affected by erectile dysfunction. When women hit menopause, they go through biological changes that make it harder for them to have natural lubrication in their vagina and their vaginal walls become less elastic. This can make sexual intercourse painful and uncomfortable—however they can receive treatment and purchase lubricants to make sex less painful and more enjoyable. Unfortunately, as women get older they are expected to not want to engage in sexual activity so it can be difficult for them to ask for medical help in order to make their sex life more enjoyable again. This is something older men also have trouble with and in some cases, it is more difficult for them to seek medical help when it comes to their sex life. Men dealing with erectile dysfunction sometimes feel less manly and struggle with asking for help or are afraid of the side effects that medication might have on their sex performance, (Hillman 2011). I believe that if more people were accepting of the fact that older men and women still want to engage in sexual activities then older adults would not feel so embarrassed to ask for help and in return would get the help they needed to improve or continue their sex life in older adulthood.
Sexual difficulties at an older age can influence not only how older adults feel about themselves but it can also influence their relationships with their partners. Through their study, Hinchliff, Tetley, Lee, and Nazroo (2017), discovered how sexual difficulties among older adults affect their romantic relationships. These findings included that in some cases, when partner was affected by sexual limitations, the couples were more concerned with the level of intimacy they had in their sexual experiences versus their performance. Sexual intimacy was an important factor to the health of their relationships. Therefore, if their sexual performance was not as high as it once was it did not affect their relationship as much as if they lacked intimacy in their relationship. Many of these older couples reported they needed high levels of intimacy to feel happy with their relationships (Hinchliff et. al, 2017). I believe this is something often forgotten when dealing with sexual difficulties within couples. That even though they might not be able to perform like they used to, sometimes they are more concerned with feeling connected with their partners versus having they sex drive they had a young adult.
Western society has a negative outlook on older adulthood and are especially critical of older adults’ sex life. This stigma can make it difficult for older adults to seek for help when their sexual difficulties keep them from having the sex life they desire. They can begin to believe that their needs are unimportant and shameful. In their research, Syme and Cohn (2016), are able to pinpoint the negative effects that this sexual stigma has on older adults. These stigmas are obvious through the lack of resources older adults had for practicing safe sex and the lack of information there was of older adults’ sexual activities. When a society believes that older adults are asexual they do not provide the necessary health care older adults need to either practice safe sex or enhance their sexual activities (Syme & Cohn 2016). As I have stated multiple times, older adults continue to have difficulties reporting any problems they might be having with their sex life because of this stigma planted on them. Getting rid of this stigma not only provides older adults with the resources they need but it will also alleviate any shame they may feel and make them feel better about their desires. The stereotype that older adults do not desire to engage in sexual activities is a myth; sexual activities continue to be an important part of life even at an older age.
Alterovitz, S. S.-R., & Mendelson, G. M. (2011). Partner Preferences Across the Life Span: Online Dating by Older Adults. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 89-95.
Hillman, J. (2008). Sexual Issues and Aging Within the Context of Work With Older Adult Patients. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 290-297.
Hinchliff, S., Tetley, J., Lee, D., & Nazroo, J. (2017). Older Adults’ Experiences of Sexual Difficulties: Qualitative Findings From the English Longitudinal Study on Ageing (ELSA). The Journal of Sex, 1-13.
Syme, M. L., & Cohn, T. J. (2016). Examining aging sexual stigma attitudes among adults by gender, age, and generational statu. Aging Mental Health, 1-17.