THE BLOG

Older People And Sex: A Taboo

13/02/2017 17:39
jacoblund via Getty Images

Thanks to medical and scientific advances, people are living longer, healthier lives and are enjoying better sex in later life as a result. However, while attitudes towards sexuality and gender are arguably more easily expressed and accepting in this day and age, younger people still have somewhat of a squeamish reaction to the idea of older people maintaining a satisfying sex life.

From first hand experience working for an online sex toy retailer, I know that older people are being proactive in looking for ways to maintain their sexual health and pleasure. Some middle-aged customers feel embarrassed to be exploring new ways of expressing their sexuality, and so are surprised to learn that some of our oldest customers are octogenarians and over.

The sex lives of older people is often sensationalised in the media, almost demonising older women for having a happy and fulfilling sex life. There is a derogatory suggestion that, "You're past it, love. It's time for the youngsters to have their fun."

However, sex amongst younger people is steadily on the decline, with 44% of teenage girls and 47% of teenage boys having had sex, compared to 58% and 69% of teenage girls and boys respectively 25 years ago (2013).

Dr Jean Twenge from San Diego State University, author of Generation Me, suggests that younger people work longer hours, often live with their parents for longer or are in a shared housing environment, and are therefore self conscious of being overheard having sex (2014).

The dismissive thought concerning older people continuing to have sex in later life, then, seems contradictory: people are having sex at a later age, but still think that older people shouldn't be having sex.

With older people enjoying better quality lives during their retirement years, it seems quite unfair that they shouldn't be allowed to enjoy a good sex life because younger people think it's wrong. There's only so much Sudoku a person can do to while away the afternoon.

This negativity towards older people maintaining a sex life often translates into the medical world too, with doctors overlooking patient's symptoms because there is an assumption that the older person is no longer sexually active. However, in 2010 it was found that the lowest rates of condom use is found among people over the age of 45, who, due to a lack of sex education, believed that they did not need to use contraception as they weren't likely to fall pregnant.

In 2016, however, it was reported that STI diagnoses in people aged 50-70 had risen by over a third in the last decade. Arguably this was down to baby boomers repartnering, or as suggested by Dr David Lee, that these older people have carried forward the more liberal attitudes to sexuality from the 60s.

What fascinates me, though, is if younger people are enjoying good sex lives, do they feel that they will have to stop as soon as they're deemed too old?

Sex can actually get better as you age, as you have a better understanding of your own body and a greater sexual knowledge gained from experience. In British sex education, there is a distinct lack in promoting sexual pleasure along with the biological aspects of sex, which perhaps is a cause of this generalisation that older people stop having as soon as their body clock winds down.

Older people enjoying better and more sex needs to be celebrated, making it a normality as opposed to something salacious or a social taboo. If we can start to generate a sex positive message, with good and clear advice on sexual health and pleasure for all ages, then perhaps certain stigmas will soon diminish.

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