As a society, we are fairly ageist and in fact, one in three people report having experienced age-based discrimination in their lifetime.
For older people, this is often found in topics surrounding sex and sexuality. A study published last year found that people consider older people having sex to be shameful, laughable, disgusting, and non-existent.
Contrary to these beliefs, consensual sex is beautiful at any age and nothing to be ashamed of, ever. And as for ‘non-existent’, a recent study by the University of Michigan found that actually, two thirds of older adults (age between 65-80) are still interested and participating in sexual activities.
We spoke with Miranda Christophers, a sex and relationships expert at Issviva, an online menopause platform about this and she said, “I have found that year on year there is an increasing number of people in the 65-85+ age group accessing therapy to explore how they can maintain, reignite or start a new sexual relationship.”
She adds: “I think many people think sex lives will stop by your 70s due to changes in health, hormones and because they find it hard to imagine what that would look like. It may also be influenced by not hearing people talking about it.
“When we normalise things, our views and expectations change. If no-one takes about sex in your 80s, why would anyone think that it happens?”.
Christophers believes that this is due to not just our ageism around sex but our ageism towards older people in general. This is backed up by the 2021 WHO announcement that ‘ageism is a global challenge’ and the ageist beliefs that every 1 in 2 people has has lead to ‘poorer physical and mental health and reduced quality of life for older persons.’
But as Christophers says, “I think we need to consider that we can do so much in our later years. Many people work, take up hobbies, and live full and fulfilling lives [as older people].”
Older people are adults and why should sex, intimacy and things that have been pleasurable and enjoyable in the past suddenly stopped being so? Christophers adds that it may be helpful for us to challenge perceived norms and beliefs and consider a philosophy of while we are alive, then life is for living – it doesn’t need to stop at a certain age.
Health benefits of sex in older people
Remaining sexually active is believed to have a number of health benefits. Sex activates chemicals in the brain (neurotransmitters) including dopamine, endorphins and oxytocin which contribute to the pleasure and sense of wellbeing during and after sex.
A 2018 study also found that older adults that were sexually active experienced ‘greater enjoyment of life, and improved well being than in those who were not sexually active’.
Sex as an older adults can be liberating
Christophers also believes that for older adults, sex can be liberating in a way that it isn’t in youth, saying, “Levels of confidence can vary and there are often reports of expectation and pressure on oneself when people are younger in respect of meeting partners or their own expectations, or feeling that sex should look a certain way, and are also more likely to compare themselves to others.”
Christophers added that in your 70s, you have the gift of time in a way that doesn’t feel quite so apparent in younger years.
“In our 70’s there may be less time pressure so more time for intimacy, connection and exploration,” she says.
‘Another day is another opportunity to enjoy or appreciate something’
Christophers ended with some parting wisdom from an elderly relative, saying: ”How lucky we are to have another birthday, another year or another day to enjoy the things or the people we enjoy? Decline in health, experiencing pain and grief are undeniably hard but another day is another opportunity to enjoy or appreciate something – for some that is a feeling of closeness or sexual pleasure.”