Older couples are having sex! Of course, this is no surprise to the elderly who are sexually active but the rest of the world seems to think sex is a preserve of the young. Well, it isn’t.
While there isn’t a great amount of research on this area – yet another indicator of the youth bias – some studies have been done that give us a little insight into what is going on. One study found that 31 per cent of British men aged 80-90 years old still masturbate and have sex; the same study found that 60 per cent of men aged 70-80 years old were still having sex.
The story was rather different for the ladies; only 14 per cent of women aged 80-90 years old and 34 per cent of those aged 70-80 years old regularly engaged in sex or masturbation. A different study at Indiana University’s Center for Sexual Health Promotion found that 46 per cent of men and 33 per cent of women aged 70 years and above reported masturbating, while 43 per cent of men and 22 per cent of women in the same age bracket were sexually active.
These and other studies allow us to make some rather critical conclusions. First, that older people are sexually definitely active and secondly, that perhaps it is time for Africans to shun the shame and judgment that surrounds the idea of sex in people of a certain age, so that we can do the sort of sex research and get the sort of data that is more representative of the Kenyan and African elderly populations, but that’s a conversation for another day.
For today, let us talk about how those who are part of our older generations can begin and continue to have sex in a way that is enjoyable to them.
What gets in the way of great sex for older couples?
Physical factors include health conditions such as diabetes – notorious for interfering with blood flow to the penis, – high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart conditions, arthritis and other medical conditions common among the elderly. Physical conditions can also include opportunistic infections such as UTI’s and yeast infections as well as conditions of the prostate.
Finally, chronic conditions such as cancer as well as surgical interventions such as knee/hip replacements, catheters, hysterectomy, kidney stones or even liver conditions can get in the way of great sex.
Emotional factors such as depression e.g. for those who have lost loved ones along the way, anxiety, worrying about the future and/or well-being of friends and family, loneliness especially in situations where one’s partner has passed away, other major life changes such children leaving the nest and having to carve out a new life in a emptier house, loss of income, loss of work or other income-generating activities and more.
In addition, social stigma can get in the way of desiring and having sexual intercourse once you’re older, the belief being that “at your age, you really should be beyond all that.”
Sexual factors such as difficulties between the couple, women may experience vaginal dryness, men may experience weaker erections, it may take longer to get aroused and reach orgasms for both men and women, there may be decreased sensations due to the medical conditions mentioned above.
What can older couples do to enjoy sex?
Attend to the physical conditions mentioned above. See the care of a qualified doctor so that any illnesses and diseases can be treated or managed. There is no reason for diabetes to cost you an erection or sensation when there is treatment available. Remember to be honest with your doctor regarding your (desired) sex life so that they can keep that in mind as they recommend interventions and prescribe medications. In some instances, you may need to use a condom. Vaginal dryness can be managed through hormonal treatments or over-the-counter lubricants. In short, prioritize your physical well-being.
Attend to the emotional conditions that could be getting in the way. If your relationship is in trouble, resist the temptation to feel that you’ve made it this far miserably and so you can make it the next many years just as miserable. You deserve to be happy, so seek help from a qualified couple or relationship professional (“professional” means someone who is trained, qualified and registered to work with couples and relationships, not just anyone who will impose their ideas of marriage on you. Ask for qualifications if you must). If there could be issues such as depression, anxiety or stress, please seek the support of a doctor and a mental health professional so that you can get the treatment and support that you need.
Attend to the sexual issues that could be robbing you of a vibrant sex life. Be more fluid as far as expectations are concerned; perhaps you had vigorous acrobatic sex in your youth but that may not be realistic so instead of reaching the conclusion that you may never have sex again, be open to trying different things. Remember that quality will always beat quantity so seek the highest quality sex that you can have. Sex for you is no longer about making children or proving a point on stamina; it’s about sex for enjoyment, for pleasure’s sake and for connection.
My hope for older couples is that they will realise that the benefits of sex apply to them too, that they will reach for sex – yes, even at this age! – because they will realise that they deserve to be happy and satisfied!
Maggie Gitu holds an MA in Marriage & Family Therapy. She practices as a Marriage, Family & Sex Therapist. Reach her at [email protected] or via her Facebook page: Maggie Gitu