The sex lives of those over seventy years old are generally shrouded in stigma. Socially those over seventy are usually thought to have little or no sex. While some attempt to address such a stigma, there is very little research regarding this matter, and in that, it is often confounded by the fact that those who do participate are already biased towards sex. However, a new study from the United Kingdom published last week has revealed some interesting results. This study appears to be a more accurate sample because it covered overall health and wellbeing, and included sexuality and sexual health. Even more interesting is that it is the first time people over eighty have been asked about their sex lives.

What we now know is that over half of men and almost a third of women over seventy report that they are still sexually active, which has some implications for those that care for the elderly. Studies investigating healthcare in aged-care facilities often report that those who work there tend to avoid seeing the elderly as sexual beings, but in a few nursing homes, the sex lives of older people are slowly being recognised. Even better than that, a handful of homes are providing healthy outlets for those who still desire sex, such as sex workers and sex toys.

Often, as we age, we may encounter difficulties with sexual functioning such as erectile problems, arousal concerns or the inability to orgasm. But this doesn’t mean that sexuality and intimacy are no longer important, it simply means that sexual fulfillment may start to look slightly different. The desire for skin on skin contact, cuddles, touch and more seem ever present. Many nursing homes seem to struggle with how to deal with the sexual needs of their residents, but perhaps this new research will assist in removing the cone of silence regarding resident’s sexuality.

In addressing the sexual needs of the elderly, it is important to remember not to impose society’s “youth-centric” norms. Having the knowledge and understanding that sex changes as we age and that our sexual repertoire becomes significantly different forms an important part of understanding sexuality in later life. Knowing that intimate gestures such as kissing, cuddling and petting are as important, if not more, than penetrative sex. Creating a society where the sexual needs of the elderly becomes as important as any other needs could create a far better quality of life for our elderly.