“No personal confession or revelation impends here, but these feelings in old folks are widely treated like a raunchy secret.” (From Roger Angell’s “This Old Man: Life in the Nineties.”)
In contrast to my usual posts on this site, there will be no personal revelations by me here either, other than to say that sex after sixty-five should not be a raunchy secret.
There it is. I’ve said the word!
Although I may have missed it, I don’t think that the word “sex” has been mentioned in any of the posts or comments for “Over 65”. Most surely, that doesn’t mean that there is an assumption of little sex over the age of sixty-five, does it? Or, that our bloggers and readers are not familiar with sex over the age of sixty-five? It also can’t be, can it, that we are still as prudish about sex as we might have been in our youth, before the “sexual revolution” of the 1960s? Even the famous Beatle’s song from that era, “When I’m 64”, did not even obliquely refer to sex at that age. Perhaps, though, there is an underlying fear of its actual or potential loss over time, kicking in the psychological defense mechanism of denial.
Whatever the reasons, let’s see if it is relevant to begin talking about sex over the age of sixty-five. Other than being paid for in the case of prostitution or companionship, sex doesn’t have any healthcare costs, and its benefits for health and well-being can be invaluable.
Interestingly enough, it seems that much of the useful research comes from outside of the USA. David Weeks, the former head of Old Age Psychology at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, has spent three decades exploring the factors that contribute to elders looking and feeling younger than their chronological age. Some of his work is summarized in his book, Secrets of the Superyoung. Other related information I found on a recent trip to Canada in perusing Zoomer, the Canadian equivalent of the AARP magazine in the USA. In particular, the article Sex: The Good News About Aging, by Leanne Delap, summarizes a presentation Dr. Weeks made in the summer of 2013 at the British Psychological Society meeting.
Prior research from the 1950s had indicated that the frequency of sexual intercourse (for men) and enjoyment (for women) predicted longevity (see E. Palmore: Predictors of the Longevity Difference: a 25 year follow-up). This finding has apparently not been confirmed in recent years, but in our modern times, perhaps both frequency and enjoyment are a reasonable goal for both sexes.
Weeks concluded in his talk that there are quality of life benefits besides any quantity of life benefits:
“Sexual satisfaction is a major contribution to quality of life, ranking at least as high as spiritual or religious commitment and other morale factors, so more positive attitudes towards mature sex should be vigorously promoted.”
How might healthy sexual relationships do this in the elderly? It naturally releases human growth hormone, which helps keep the skin elastic, with fewer wrinkles. It improves mood with the release of endorphins and oxytocin. It increases prolactin, which in turn helps sleep.
Whereas sex can be good for health, health can also be good – and necessary – for sex. As we age and health problems increase, these problems in health can reduce the pleasures of sex. Viagra and its medication relatives can help one particular problem in men, but many others don’t have such a ready solution.
Of course, there are risks and possible “side effects” to sex. Enjoyable sex in a long-term, committed relationship is the best situation. Good enough health in both partners for safe and enjoyable sex is important. More sexual intercourse seems better, and with orgasm, better yet. Presumably, though less researched, sexual intimacy other than intercourse can provide some of the same benefits.
As we age and get into our 80s and 90s, these are also social factors that are influential. Opportunities for intimate partners diminish, especially for women, who, as a group, live longer than men. Those of that age are increasingly using on-line dating services to increase opportunities. Perhaps, if intimacy is still not available for one reason or another, self-stimulation accompanied by memories of enjoyable intimate sex can have some benefits.
More research is needed. Awaiting that, ingenuity and patience may be necessary. Who knows, but maybe the sexually active of the eldest can teach the youngest something about the joys of sex.
If having sex with less-known and more partners, the elderly need to take some of the same precautions as those younger, even though the pregnancy risk is not present. That means men using condoms. That means checking for sexually transmitted diseases.
I wrote of the major questions and concerns of some of the products of the anti-aging industry in a prior post on this site. Now, I realized that sex wasn’t mentioned in the anti-aging products or by me in the blog. Perhaps it is because sex can be free and money usually not made off of it in the elderly, though to be sure, Pharma is peddling controversial treatments for “low T”, even to men much younger than 65.
Yet, it appears that good sex over the age of 65 may provide some sips from a fountain of youth. We should enjoy it, as we can, when we can.
H. Steven Moffic, M.D., 67, retired from clinical practice at 66. He was fondly deemed a “psychiatric gadfly” by the Chair of the Department of Psychiatry where he first trained. His book The Ethical Way: Challenges and Solutions for Managed Behavioral Healthcare, published in 1997, was the first extended discussion of the ethics of managed mental health care. In addition to his posts on Over 65, he blogs at Psychiatric Times as well.