Key to sexual life in the elderly: adapting desires and activity to physical changes | Health and wellness

“Sex in the elderly is a big taboo in our society,” says Meren Larzabal, psychologist and sexologist and president of the International Association of Sexologists. Sex is an essential aspect of being human that exists throughout life, according to the World Health Organization. This also includes aging, although this stage is not always associated with sex. In 2019, the population over the age of 65 exceeded 700 million people, according to United Nations data. In the next three decades, it is estimated that this number will double to more than 1,500 million people in 2050. In 2021, in Spain, this age group made up nearly 20% of its total population, according to data from the National Statistics Institute (INE) . Larrazabal considers it necessary to provide information to the elderly, based on scientific knowledge, that allows them to adapt their desires and activity to those bodily changes to which they may undergo. “It’s good to have sex with the whole life cycle,” he says.

Recently, it was published in Journal of Sexual Medicine A study looking at sexual activity in the elderly, as part of a larger project on sexual violence in Belgium. Specifically, the research consists of a sample of 511 people who live in the Belgian country and are between the ages of 70 and 99. The results showed that one third of them are sexually active (31.3%). Since they are sexually active, they understood sexual intercourse with penetration, masturbation, anal sex, oral sex… 47.3% of the sexually inactive reported that they experienced some form of physical tenderness: intimate contact, without penetration or masturbation, such as kisses or caresses.

In 2012, this same journal published a similar analysis with data on sexual activity in the elderly collected in Spain, which had a sample of nearly 2,000 people. The results also show that sexual activity is present in Spaniards over 65 years of age: 62.3% of men and 37.4% of women. The parameters are more relaxed than in the previous study. As a sexual practice, it included kisses, hugs, oral sex, vaginal intercourse, and masturbation. Adina Cismaru-Inescu, a clinical sexologist, doctoral student in aging and co-author of the paper from Belgium, believes that these analyzes “show that sexual activity in the elderly is present and physical tenderness as well.”

As in the rest of the ages, the sexual life of the elderly is influenced by many factors. Gynecologist Ana Ezquera Jimenez argues that the main is physical and mental health and that there are some differences by gender. In women, menopause, and the consequent decrease in the hormones produced by the ovaries, affects sexual desire and results in physiological changes in the external and internal reproductive system such as vaginal dryness or a less orgasmic response in terms of intensity and duration, for example. “Each woman’s intimate awareness of these natural changes, acceptance of them as a new stage of life and adaptation to the new situation, in an optimistic way, are key in developing a subsequent enjoyable and painless sexual activity,” Reasons said. Added to this is the aging diseases that both women and men suffer from. They don’t go through menopause as such, but their testosterone levels drop slightly with age. Ezquerra Giménez assures that these problems can be addressed by professionals.

Sexologist Larrazabal recalls that some medications taken to control age-related diseases have an effect on sexual activity and libido, especially psychoactive drugs. “Sometimes we professionals forget that sex life is so important for older adults, and just as we advertise the side effects of some medications to young adults, we should also do so with older adults,” he explains.

Sexual desire is an essential part of sexual life. It is very complex and involves many biological, psychological, social, and cultural factors, according to Elarzabal. Although not everything is known about it, the sexologist assures that it is known by experts that having an active sex life is the best way to maintain desire. “That sexual desire presents different faces throughout life. Sexual life must be developed, and it must be developed,” he asserts. The expert advocates that sexuality should not focus on sexual intercourse or vitality, but could be a broader model of sexuality.

The benefits of sex are numerous: “Sex provides a state of well-being and has a great effect on the physical level: for the blood circulation, for the heart, to reduce the level of stress …”, summarizes Larzabal . Besides the physical, it also has a great psychological impact.

perception of the elderly

The dominant perception among older adults of sexual activity is positive. This is determined by a review of more than a dozen studies published in Spanish Journal of Public Health In 2019. However, there are some issues that are a barrier to expressing sexual desire: stereotypes, prejudices from people who live together, lack of intimacy at home, and the association between procreation and sexuality.

This research demonstrates how women living in the community have demanded adequate sexuality education to help them naturally tolerate changes after menopause. With regard to widows, the connection of sexual relations to their role as wives is astonishing, which means that when they were widowed, there was a turning point that put an end to their sexuality. Many participants, especially those who followed the doctrine of the Catholic Church, expressed that the purpose of sexual relations was pregnancy rather than pleasure and that these relationships were part of the duty as wives and not something they were created to enjoy.

Cismaru-Inescu, one of the authors of the Belgian investigation, defends the lack of sex education in the elderly as one of the reasons that fuel sexual taboos at that age. In addition to the prevailing perceptions of the elderly, such as their image as grandparents and grandmothers only “baking biscuits and going for a walk”. Psychologist Larzabal believes that the sexuality of the elderly is shrouded in myths. The first is that sex ends at a certain age of life and that it leaves the life of the old man and the old woman. We have to understand that we are a gender,” he says.

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