Updated: Aug 8, 2020
There’s nothing like spending the day in bed watching Netflix movies or a bomb series during the weekend. I recently came across a movie titled “Our Souls at Night,” which followed my binge on “Grace and Frankie.” This movie was so pure and honest. It provided insight to topics like loneliness, companionship and sexuality as an older adult. It's about two widowed neighbors agreeing to platonically sleep in bed together every night, in order to alleviate their loneliness (I got this description from Netflix). Like any new relationship, this "sleepy time" setup starts off very AWKWARD. I can imagine if it were me in this situation, I would be laying in bed thinking of what to talk about, hoping I don't laugh in my sleep and most importantly, wondering if I should put my bonnet on. Annnyway, the two characters eventually became very comfortable with each other and were upfront about their thoughts and feelings, which led into a romantic relationship.
Tell 'em that it's Human Nature...
This movie provoked thoughts about how we view older adults having a significant other, or how the slightest thought of an 80-year old being sexually active can at times seem taboo or unlikely in our minds. Hmmm, why is that? Could it be that we think sex in our 70's or 80’s is disgusting or too funny to believe? Maybe it's rooted with stereotypes that have always been used to support our thinking of a 70 and 80-year old being unable to have sex because he or she has an illness, a cognitive disability, or an issue with mobility? Or do we think at a certain age, sex will no longer be a desire? These limiting thoughts are so far from the truth for many older adults. So, let me go ahead and drop some knowledge on you with regards to older adults and sexual intimacy, since I know we will all get “older” sooner than later and I’m sure none of us plan to stop getting the goods.
Let's first start with the most recent research regarding older adults and sex, which dates back to 2007 and is an issue within itself that we'll touch on at a later time. A study was conducted to see the prevalence of sexual activity and sexual behaviors among this population. The results showed a decline in sexual activity as these participants got older. However, there is a large number of older adults who still engage in sexual activity in their 80's and 90's. Ha, they are getting busy and we ain't een' know it (we did not even know it, for those who may not have understood what I just said).
So, now that we know not all older adults are at home sitting in front of the TV watching Dateline on a Friday night, let's highlight some other issues surrounding thoughts towards sex in late adult life. Remember Dr. Ruth, the sex therapist that used to be on late night TV talking about sex? I used to giggle at the emphasis she would put on certain words like penis, erection and vagina (childish) and was amazed by her vast knowledge about sex. Well, she's still alive and knocking on the door of age 90 with just as much enthusiasm about sex as back in the day. I recently heard Dr. Ruth on a podcast and she addressed issues related to why older adults over 70 are viewed as not being sexually active. It was summed up to lack of effective communication and education. She made a point about physicians and therapists needing appropriate training on how to effectively communicate with their patients about sex. Also, the children of these older adults (which will be us millennials one day) need to be more understanding about the beneficial role sex plays in the lives of their aging parents. Oh yeah, and she threw in "stop smirking when you think or hear of people over 70-years of age still having sex." *Sigh, I smirk and raise a brow.
What's Your Point, Christina?
What I have noticed is society shows favoritism towards youthfulness. Society finds it more intriguing to know about 25-year olds having sex than it does people who are in their 70's. Think about it, how many sex scenes have you seen with older adults in movies? With views like that, the message we send to older adults is they shouldn't be living it up sexually, wearing lace cheekies and utilizing other 'enhancements.' I want to be sure that we keep in mind, we too will be crossing the bridge of age 70 and 80 one day, do we want to feel ashamed for verbally expressing our desires or for participating in certain sexual activities? Do we want people to constantly tell us we shouldn't be having intercourse or performing oral sex? Do we want to constantly be reminded about the many changes our reproductive systems go through and have conclusions drawn for why we shouldn't enjoy sexin' it up? Nah.
3 Tips for How to Change Our Views on Sex in Late Adult Life
1. Let's Put Ourselves In Their Shoes: We all know that putting ourselves in someone else's shoes can change our perspectives and make us more empathetic and understanding. Well, think about how you would feel if you were 89 and still singing Silk's "Freak Me" song, would you want your children and grand-children coming to you saying that's wrong? As much as we can all say that we will still be interested in sex when we cross that 80-year old mark, it does not mean that the younger generations will understand that. If we are mindful of our views, beliefs in myths and stereotypes now, we can renew our minds and eliminate these things for the future.
2. STOP Assuming: when researching this topic, I found that we really have no idea what sparks interest for older adults. We assume they are disinterested in sex and they all face extreme situations, resulting in a non-active sex life. I have learned that one of the reasons behind why myths and stereotypes exist is because of assumptions. We see someone who is 88, gray-haired, and in a wheelchair and instantly assume he/she is incapable of doing anything. We then plan out the rest of this individual's life and see them as asexual. In the voice of T.I., why we gotta go and do that love, huh? Wheelchair bound or not, fun can still be had in the bedroom.
3. Communication: the more we communicate about a 'taboo' topic, as it relates to older adults, the more they will feel encouraged to safely participate in this act and feel less embarrassed. Notice I said 'safely participate' because STD's are just as common in old age, as they are young adults and teens. We are immune to when younger generations bring up sex topics, but embarrassed when older adults mention it. I guarantee if you sat down with Big Momma, or any older adult, and started a conversation about sex that you'd be surprised at how often she mentioned oral sex as being a favorite. See I just giggled because you would never think of someone over 80 having any thoughts of oral sex. That's the problem. Communicate AND learn. One should not feel ashamed for still desiring an active sex life. Ever heard of the term ageless sex? It means it never grows old and nobody can put an expiration date on it.
As we continue to reframe how we view getting older and our thoughts towards older adults being sexually active and having a boo, always remember the old sayin:
“There may be a little snow on the roof, but baby there’s still fire in the furnace.”