Prof. Gila Brunner gives tips on sexuality in old age.

Your Age May Be Golden – But Sexuality is Rusting

Tips for maintaining sexual health at any age
By Gila Brunner, Sex Therapist, Center for Sexual Medicine at Sheba Medical Center

Sexuality and old age, is this combo possible? The term “sexuality” usually conjures up images of vigorous, spontaneous, and passionate sex – scenes that are only possible between young people. In contrast, thoughts of old age typically symbolize life with limitations, disease, a lack of energy, and a lack of sex.

However, the truth is quite different. Sexuality is a basic human need that accompanies us throughout our entire journey from birth to death. It is much more than a string of erotic experiences and sexual relations, and it comprises both erotic and non-erotic parts of life. Sexuality includes the expression of many significant emotions, including love, affection and compassion, as well as meaningful touch, such as soothing, embracing and stimulating.

Additionally, our ability to give or receive love, give or receive a hug, feel and respond with excitement contributes significantly to our physical and mental health, particularly to sexual health. Numerous studies have shown that non-erotic sexuality helps to reduce stress and anxiety, relieve pain and enhance feelings of optimism in both the giver and receiver.

Erotic experiences are obviously also an important part of sexuality, such as sexual intercourse, stimulation, masturbation and orgasm. These activities have also been shown to contribute positively to physical and mental health.

What happens to sexuality in old age?

All of our body systems change with age. Becoming familiar with these changes makes it easier to accept and adapt to your golden years. For example, you’ll likely change your eating habits, sleep habits, the way you walk, and even the way you dress. Generally, people are not ashamed of these changes and will seek help from professionals, when necessary.

For instance, if your vision changes, you won’t simply give up reading or watching movies. Instead, you’ll visit an eye doctor for an eye exam and wear prescription glasses, if recommended. Similarly, if your sleep quality suffers, you may get advice about the best new mattress to purchase. The advice and knowledge of professionals helps us to preserve our quality of life – despite aging.

When it comes to the sexual system and intimate needs, changes also occur. But here, many people tend to react differently, becoming alarmed and convinced that the changes point to the end of sexual function. Instead of consulting with professionals, asking for advice from friends, or even discussing it with our spouses, we may just surrender to the problem and give up on sexuality. That’s a shame.

How to maintain sexuality in old age

Studies show that half of all people in their 70s and a quarter of people in their 80s are still sexually active. Seniors shouldn’t be ashamed of their needs for a loving, pampering touch – be it erotic or non-erotic. Suppressing our feelings and desires is wrong. Sadly, some professionals have even assimilated this approach and ignore the sexual needs of their elderly patients.

Here are some tips to help you preserve sexual health as you age:

  • Seek and familiarize yourself with information about sexuality in old age.
  • Talk openly with your partner, so you can both understand any changes occurring in your intimacy.
  • Consult with relevant professionals, as needed, such as doctors, nurses, and social workers.
  • Adopt an approach that encourages sexual flexibility (this advice is also suitable for younger people!), which is a concept that permits choosing the appropriate type of contact, depending on the ability and needs of each individual and each couple. Contact can be non-erotic or erotic, and can involve external sexual relations (without penetration) or internal relations. The goal is to enjoy a myriad of experiences that bring pleasure – with no guilt, feelings of failure, or performance anxiety.
  • Contact a Sexology Clinic near you. Check the list of public clinics on the official website of the Israeli Organization for Sexual Therapy: www.itam.org.il