By Dr. Kristen Dillon
With increased age come some changes including, but not limited to changes associated with finances, family relationships, physical and mental health, and sex. Most people assume that as one gets older sex becomes less important, but this is in fact a myth. In fact, the importance of sex remains consistent throughout life.
In other words, if you were interested in sex when you were young, you will likely remain interested as you age. Research has shown that 1/2 to 3/4 of adults aged 57-85 remain sexually active (Lindau et al., 2007). Moreover, 63% of people between 60-69 and 50% of people over 70 report having sex at least once a week (Brecher, 1984). Though it’s true that with age comes an increase chance of sexual problems and a possible decrease in sexual activity, an interest in sex remains high (Stein, 2007).
With so many people over the age of 65 remaining sexually active and demonstrating an interest in sex, why is this something that we don’t talk about? And more so, why are we not discussing safe sex in older adulthood?
The subject of sex can make people cringe in general. We, as a society, often hold biases in particular about seniors that make it even more difficult to consider older adults getting it on. However, sexual activity in older adulthood is healthy, both physically and mentally. For the younger readers, honestly, when you get up there in age, you’ll most likely be having sex too. So, it’s important to know the facts about sex in older adulthood for yourself, and your parents and grandparents.
In the past decade rates of sexually transmitted diseases have double among people aged 50-90 years old (Simson, 2012). In 2010, 19,000 people between the ages of 45 and 64 were diagnosed with syphilis. Furthermore, the rate of new cases of HIV has doubled between 2000-2009 in people over 50 (Simson, 2012). So why is this happening?
One reason is the myth that older adults do not need to use condoms. It’s true the risk of pregnancy goes down to almost nil. However, clearly the risk of sexually transmitted diseases is still very much present. Moreover, older adults are engaging in more sexual activity with the introduction of medications like Viagra. In fact, the dramatic rise in STDs coincides with the introduction of this drug in 1998 (Simson, 2012).
So how can we stop this trend? Though it may be an uncomfortable conversation, young people may want to consider talking to their parents or grandparents about safe sex practices. After all at some point, they had the conversation about the birds and the bees with you – it’s time for you to return the uncomfortable favor.
For those older adults who are thinking about becoming sexually active with a new partner or for those who are already sexual active- you may want to ask your partner about STD testing and consider getting tested yourself. It is also important to talk to your doctor about safe sex practices and even more important for these doctors to talk to you, especially when prescribing medications like Viagra. And finally, wear a condom! It’s the easiest way to prevent the spread of STDs and the practice of safe sex.
Kristen Dillon, Psy.D. is a recent graduate of the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology and will be serving as a postdoctoral fellow specializing in geropsychology in the VA System.