Doris Bersing, PhD

Lust Into Old Age: Aging and Sex

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Lust into Old Age

I still have vivid memories of the first time I delivered a lecture titled “Lust into Old Age” at a senior living facility in San Francisco, CA. The response from social workers, nurses, staff members, and family members of the residents was a mix of surprise, shock, interest, and even concern. Some were worried that I was opening a sensitive topic, while others found it amusing and made playful comments. Perhaps some of those with enthusiasm were some of the residents discovered in the middle of the night sneaking into another resident’s bedroom, or funnier that one who got stuck into a contortioned position in the bathroom floor with another resident on top and could not get up. What a surprise for the attendant who answer the emergency button call! These situations sparked discussions among management about the potential of setting up designated areas for casual meetings and hosting speed-dating events to facilitate residents’ search for love. These stories revealed the elephant-in-the-room for me, as I learned that seniors over 65 are still energetic and desirous when it comes to sex. Despite the initial reactions, the lecture was sold out, and it opened a new dialogue about addressing the sexual desires of seniors and how to embrace sexuality as a normal part of aging.

As we go through life, our bodies and desires naturally change. It is no secret that aging brings about various transformations, including those in our sexual lives. However, why should we view these changes in a negative light? In fact, embracing sexuality and aging can lead to a fulfilling and joyful experience. Let’s break the taboo and have open conversations about sex drive in seniors. The American Psychological Association defines sex drive as “an arousal state that triggers the desire for sexual gratification.” Simply put, it is our mental and physical interest in sex. There is no standard or “normal” sex drive, as it varies greatly from person to person. While some may be more sexually active in their younger years and less so as they age, others may experience the opposite. Ultimately, our essence remains mostly unchanged as we age.

Breaking the Taboo: Discussing Sex Drive in Seniors

One of the biggest misconceptions surrounding aging is that our sex drive diminishes. However, research has shown that many seniors maintain a healthy and active interest in sex well into their golden years. It’s time to break the taboo and acknowledge that elders have just as much desire as younger adults.

There are plenty of ways experts and everyday people might describe “sex drive,” (aka “libido”). The American Psychological Association (APA) defines it as “an arousal state precipitating the desire for sexual gratification”. Simply put, it is our mental and physical interest in sex. There is no one “normal” sex drive; your interest in having sex and the amount you think about it or engage in it is a very individual experience. While some people will be more sexually active when they are younger and less so when they are older, others may experience the complete opposite.

Society often perpetuates stereotypes that older adults lose interest in sex or that it becomes less important. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s time to debunk these stereotypes and embrace the fact that sexuality is a lifelong journey. Age should never be a barrier to experiencing pleasure, connection, and intimacy.

Navigating the Challenges of Aging and Sex: Hormones vs Desire

Let’s face it, aging brings its fair share of challenges. From health issues to medications that may affect sexual function, there are obstacles to overcome. Many people mistakenly associate a decline in sexual desire with aging. However, it’s essential to understand that desire is not solely driven by hormones. While hormonal changes do occur as we age, they are not the sole determining factor in our desire for sex. In fact, desire is a complex interplay of biological, psychological, and emotional factors.

However, it’s essential to approach these challenges with a positive mindset and seek support when needed. With the right knowledge and resources, we can navigate these hurdles and continue to enjoy a fulfilling sex life. There’s no hard or fast biological rules or gender norm either — individuals of all genders and sexes may have high or low libidos. The factors that influence sex drive vary so much, that everything from hormonal elements to purely situational circumstances can trigger or suppress desire at any age.

Many older women have a long, fulfilling sex life and don’t talk about it. There are women who find sex painful after a certain age, and some whose sex drive drops off a cliff. I’ve talked to both; some seem to be helped by doctors, and some do not. Then there is Jane Fonda and those like her. Who were sexually active –perhaps up to her 78s—but at 80 decided to “closed up shop down there”. It’s no secret that our bodies change as we age. Wrinkles appear, our skin loses elasticity, and our physical stamina may not be what it once was. However, these changes should not be viewed as obstacles to sexual fulfillment. On the contrary, they can be seen as opportunities for creativity and exploration. With a little imagination and open-mindedness, we can adapt and find new ways to experience pleasure and intimacy.

For some women, having sex at their old age, is not appealing. Simone Jacob--a  successful model, a talented artist and blogger—says: “Today, at almost 60, I often have to pull myself together for an erotic encounter…at the end of the day, when I have the choice between tying my body in knots or a lazy couch potato evening with a chip bag and a good movie, I like to opt for the latter…”

Our brothers, older men might also observe a gradual decrease in their sex drive (libido) with age. The degree of this decline varies. But most men maintain at least some amount of sexual interest into their 60s and 70s. But sometimes loss of sex drive is related to an underlying condition (not limited too erectile dysfunction, ejaculatory and orgasmic dysfunctions, hormonal deficiency, cardiovascular issues). As men age, they may experience certain physical issues that can affect their sexuality. However, it’s important to note that emotional factors also play a significant role in their sexual activity. Factors such as good physical health, having a regular sexual partner, and maintaining an active sexual lifestyle earlier in life often contribute to the continued enjoyment of sexual activity in old age.

In addition to the stigma and taboos surrounding sex in older age, LGBTQ+ individuals often encounter specific challenges that can affect their sexual satisfaction. These include legal limitations on coming out, social isolation, internalized homophobia, secrecy, and difficulties finding a partner. However, recent research has shed light on the lives of gay and bisexual men in their later years, revealing that they are enjoying fulfilling sexual lives with multiple partners well into their 70s. Unfortunately, there is a glaring lack of research on this topic when it comes to lesbians and bisexual women but as Ruth L. Schwartz expresses her encouragement to older lesbians to find support, community and even Love…“You’re Not Too Old ’Til You’re Dead”. Of course, it is crucial for future studies to explore and address the unique experiences and needs of LGBTQ+ individuals in old age to ensure their sexual well-being is fully supported.

Despite societal stereotypes and misconceptions, sexual activity in old age is a natural and healthy part of life. It is important to recognize that the desire for intimacy and connection does not diminish with age. While there may be variations in individual preferences and physical abilities, older individuals who have a strong interest in sex should feel empowered to continue exploring their sexuality. Just as our desires and needs evolve throughout our lives, so too does our understanding of pleasure and satisfaction. Embracing one’s sexuality in old age can contribute to overall well-being and enhance personal relationships, fostering a sense of joy and fulfillment in this stage of life.

Remember, it’s not about the outward appearance but the connection we cultivate with our partner that truly matters. While physical attraction may have been the primary driver of desire in our younger years, it’s the emotional and intellectual connection that truly ignites the flame as we grow older. Engaging in deep conversations, sharing experiences, and nurturing a genuine emotional bond with our partner can greatly enhance our sexual experiences. It’s this mental intimacy that allows us to explore new realms of pleasure and fulfillment. Remember, age is just a number, and it’s never too late to try new things. Ari Seth Cohen on his book Advanced Love had followed straight pairs, gay pairs, gender-nonconforming pairs [some have been together only a few years, others more than a half-century] …”what links them all, though, is the belief that love overcomes. And that growing older doesn’t mean growing stale”.

The way you live is the way you age; For the most part we don’t change as we age; if a horny beast– always been passionate and lustful about life—when young, always a horny beast. Although some of our characteristics do become more magnified or minimized, our essence remains quite intact. Taking some time for self-reflection and soul search, could help us figure out our needs and desires and allow us to tap into a deeper level of understanding and connection, enabling us to embrace those desires with a newfound sense of freedom and confidence.

In conclusion, embracing sex and aging can lead to a fulfilling and vibrant experience. By understanding the changing dynamics of sex and aging, breaking taboos, and seeking support and resources, we can navigate the challenges and continue to enjoy a healthy and satisfying sex life.

If you’re ready to embrace a fulfilling and vibrant sex life as you age, take the first step today. Seek support, engage in open conversations, and explore new possibilities. Remember, age is just a number, and pleasure knows no boundaries. Let’s laugh, love, and lust with a twinkle in our eyes!