If your first thought on the subject is, do older people still have sex?, then it is time to think again. Sex for those over 50 is thriving and it continues unabashed throughout their 60s, 70s and well into the eighties and nineties. Maybe not with the same intensity as back in the day, maybe not as often, however, the benefits, feeling close, attached, in a relationship, belonging to someone, those things don’t change. Wanting to be in a relationship with others is a basic human need, the desire to be loved and important to someone isn’t the preserve of the young, it’s something that is a part of us all, to greater or lesser degrees throughout our lives.
The up and coming older generation are the jazzed up, hippy, trippy children of the fifties and sixties who put relationships and sex firmly centre stage. The people who related to others, got up close and personal, took on muesli, contraception, red wine and vegetarianism without batting an eyelid, they jived, head banged and plugged into the rhythm of life and along the way saw inhibitions wilt and die as they ploughed new furrows (organic ones of course) and labelled them desire and togetherness and intimacy. Love and peace man…
Well that’s maybe going a bit far, however, this generation were also the ones that rallied against social injustice, marched and demanded changes and equality for all. They are not a generation to sit back and be grateful for what they are given, not politically, socially or in their relationships. And for many of this generation relationship will also mean sexual expression in some form or other.
And as this high flying older generation enter this new phase of their lives, they will have clear ideas and ideals about how they want to spend their time and importantly who they want to spend it with; they weren’t ready to accept the status quo in their youth (although they may still have a few of their LPs and if you don’t know what an LP is ask someone over 60) so why might they become placid and passive now?
The desire for love and sexual pleasure doesn’t end when you hand over your concessionary bus pass application, (what a difference if it came back with a safe sex information sheet though). The increase in the number of sexually transmitted infections among the over 50s indicates that they are out and about and having fun (a bit more care around preventing the infections would be good, but don’t stop the fun). Good relationships improve health and sex is a good cardiovascular workout.
Whilst we are rightly looking at the looming crisis in care for the older generation let’s remember that along with the need for food and shelter people also have relationship and sexual needs and that those relationships might cover a wide variety of combinations maybe not previously seen in such numbers in long term care. Just as the contraceptive pill was revolutionary in opening up sex as something that could be enjoyed without fear of pregnancy, HRT and the medical advances for men’s sexual difficulties allow satisfying and fulfilling sexual relationships way beyond what was seen as generally acceptable for previous generations. Are future planners considering that older people might be sexual into their eighties and nineties, they might want private space and the opportunities to develop new relationships or that they might need information and advice on sex in later life. Does the doctor routinely ask if the patient requires something to enhance sexual functioning along with their inhaler? There is rightly an emphasis on health and wellbeing in older life, however, that’s not just about diet and exercise. The body doesn’t just need food and water; it requires comfort and the ability to express all its needs to maintain good health. Do we ask older people how their love life is or do we assume it is no longer a priority for them?
Attitudes towards sex and relationships has changed greatly over the past few decades and there is no reason to suspect that those changes will pause, however, whilst there is rightly emphasis on the young and ensuring they have good sex education, let’s also not forget that sex can be a lifelong, life enhancing pursuit and that it can be just as good in later life. We just need to ensure that just as much consideration and value is placed on sex and good relationships in later life as it is in younger years.
Relationships Scotland provides a sex therapy service in locations across Scotland. Visit www.relationships-scotland.org.uk to speak to your local couple counselling service.
• Anne Chilton is head of professional practice at Relationships Scotland