Awhile ago, a colleague reported that his dad had brought up an awkward topic in passing. His father, a fairly robust man in his eighties had mentioned that he “would not mind if his wife and he could have occasional sex.” I asked at the time what my colleague had said in response. He admitted that he really had no idea what to say at the time, largely because it came out of the blue. He and his father had always had a very open line of communication, but he had not been prepared for talking about the “birds and the bees.”
With the aging Boomers, we actually are seeing a substantial increase in sexual activity among adults well beyond age 65. Men are more active than women, but women also are more likely to have been widowed or otherwise lost a partner of longstanding. What researchers at the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center found is that chronic disease is more often the obstacle to mutually-satisfactory intimacy among older adults than age. So if you are a caregiver to an older loved one, what should you say if the subject comes up.
1. Try not to be awkward, because your older loved one may actually be talking simply about being intimate with their spouse or partner. And that does not always mean sex. Depression can be a common problem for older adults, and touch is a great way to address the isolation that can fuel the depression.
2. Help them to appreciate that it may not be the same as when they were younger. Arousal issues are particularly challenging to women who report dryness or diminished libido. You may also find a way to tactfully suggest trying intimacy earlier in a day than had been a couple’s custom. They will be more refreshed and vigorous before the demands of a long day have taken their toll.
3. Caution against too much alcohol as the inhibitions of alcohol become more pronounced as one’s natural responsiveness to intimacy is diminished, especially for men. Other illicit drugs also out to be avoided.
4. For older adults who came of age before all the sexually-transmitted diseases of the current era, it will be important that they be introduced to “safe sex.” The current rates of STDs have been testimony to this problem with the incidence more than doubling among some cohorts.
5. Finally, intimacy is not just narrowly defined as intercourse. Getting back to the importance of touch as an antidote to depression, your older loved one may be talking about just being close to their partner. In fact, it may be that actual sexual engagement may not be possible for an older adult suffering from certain medical conditions or on certain medications where sex may be inhibited.
It may be helpful to consider this more than an awkward conversation. It is the first of what could be many in which you can communicate adult to adult with an older loved one. Along the way, it will be important to be aware of the potential to fall back into old patterns of parent-child communication. Your older loved one and you will both be the beneficiaries. For more information on the “talk,” check out the Mayo Clinic’s site (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/senior-sex/MC00057/NSECTIONGROUP=2)
Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.