Sexual Health and Intimacy in Later Life

The concept that older adults cannot have intimacy or a satisfying sex life is misleading. One basic need involves emotionally based relationships which play a vital role in the overall human experience. People have a universal need to belong and to love and having intimate relationships provides social networks and emotional support to older adults.

Photo Credit: Alex Proimos
Photo Credit: Alex Proimos

As people grow older, they want and need to be close to others. This includes the desire to continue an active and satisfying sex life despite changes in sexual behavior. Older adults may be impaired by infirmity but relationship needs such as closeness and sexual desire still remain. Many seniors can have sexual relationships, and probably a few others find ways to maintain or rekindle intimacy and a satisfying sex life as they age.

Health plays a key role in the level of older adults’ sexual activity. Many chronic health conditions such as pain as well decreased sexual desires due to emotional or health problems can affect sexual health. Health professionals have known that sexual dysfunction is not only a major problem for relationships and mental health, but can be an indicator of serious physical health issues such as heart disease. Older adults need preventive health screenings to reduce sexual problems. In addition, older women can improve the quality of their sexual experiences by aggressively managing their health conditions.

Age does not protect seniors from sexually transmitted diseases. In fact, older adults who are sexually active may be at risk for diseases such as syphilis, gonorrhea, genital herpes, among other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). It has been reported that the number of older adults with HIV/AIDS is growing. While casual sex offers only a moment of emotional intimacy. It does not provide the love and commitment of a serious relationship.

In conclusion, older adults need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance, whether it comes from a social group or connections. This desire to belong can bring about companionship and intimacy among seniors. Sex and older adults is still a taboo in some societies and often ignored. It is paramount that sexual health becomes a vital component of the quality of life for seniors.

Sophie Okolo is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Global Health Aging.

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