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A great deal has been written and spoken about sexuality in the aging person. This is not surprising in a society that has become more open about discussing sexual feelings. In some ways you may both benefit and suffer from the new freedom of sexual expression. Many older people have ideas about their sexuality that are quite different from those of the younger generation. You were brought up at a time when sex was not discussed openly, and there was less physical freedom. With this background you may not agree with the new sexual attitudes. Many people have never had the opportunity to express their sexual feelings. You might feel somewhat inhibited about discussing them, even though you might welcome the chance to act on your sexual inclinations.
Many myths about the sexual needs and abilities of the elderly are held by most younger people and by many health care professionals, including physicians and nurses. Because of these traditional beliefs, you may find it difficult to express your sexual needs or feel comfortable with them. One common myth is that sexual desire and attraction decrease with age. But youth does not have a monopoly on sex. Although books, television, and movies almost never depict an older person expressing passion or love, this is just a reflection of the myth.
Another myth is that as you grow older your body does not need or respond to sexual desire. It is assumed somehow that your sexual organs stop functioning and you forget about sex after you reach some mysterious age. I have observed that most people continue to have the same pattern of sexual expression and desire that they had during their younger years. Those who were reserved and not particularly sexually active will probably find it quite easy to assume a more sedate sexual life. You may not even regret the lack of a sexual outlet. This is especially so if during your sexually active years you merely tolerated sex or derived little enjoyment from it.
People who were sexually active during youth and derived enjoyment from sexual activity will probably continue to do so. If you have a suitable partner, you will probably continue to have an active sex life into your old age. You may find that some of your physical needs and abilities have changed, but you will learn to modify your sexual activities to fit your abilities. In some ways sexual activity is like riding a bicycle. Once you learn, you never forget how. The problem is that you may not always have a bicycle handy, or the models change and the new ones are not quite the same.
However, if you persist, you will probably be able to accommodate to the changing times and continue to find pleasure in sex.
Younger people often feel that sex is not proper or moral for the older person. For example, one often hears an older man referred to as a “dirty old man” if he verbally or physically expresses appreciation of or attraction to a willing younger female. Such activities by a younger man would no doubt be praised.
It is most important for you to be able to express comfortably your affection and sexuality. Your family, physician, and other health professionals should be cautioned about pushing you if you are not ready to deal with these feelings, however. Some of us in the medical profession may overact in our zeal to allow the older individual to reveal sexual needs. One elderly widow was appalled when her physician thoughtfully and tactfully asked if she was having sexual feelings when she complained of persistent discomfort around her vagina. The woman was so insulted that her physician would think such a thing so many years after her beloved husband’s death that she refused to see that doctor ever again. Although this was an exaggerated response, it could be understood in terms of this woman’s lifelong view of sex in relationship to her late husband.
Your sexual requirements and ability to fulfill them depend on many factors. Those who have a sexual partner, either through marriage or another arrangement, will probably have an easier time expressing particular sexual needs than those who are alone. However, even young couples can have problems that inhibit each member from being able to fulfill individual needs. Nevertheless, if you have had a long relationship and have weathered the storms of life together, you should be able to explore your mutual sexual needs.
Many people are reticent about discussing their sexual feelings with each other. This is especially so if they have not been used to doing it before. Most people certainly cannot discuss their inclinations with their children because most children continue to be amazed that their older parents “indulge” in sex. Some physicians hold the same ideas and may not be sympathetic Or approachable. Many physicians, however, will respond to your concerns or will refer you to a qualified counselor who can help you work out your sexual problems.
For those without a permanent sexual partner, fulfilling your sexual needs is more difficult. The “double standard” exists even for the elderly. A single man usually can find a suitable sexual partner at any age. So long as you are a healthy and sexually active man, there is a strong likelihood that a female partner will be available. Women, on the other hand, have more difficulty finding appropriate partners as they grow older, especially since they outnumber men. And older women usually will not take the initiative as readily in finding a partner. Also, single older men may accept sexual encounters more easily outside the framework of marriage. Because of traditional standards, older women often avoid sexual involvements outside of marriage. With changing attitudes, however, a woman may no longer have to wait until a man finds her. There are more and more opportunities at social clubs and other senior-citizen centers for you to discover partners suitable for your emotional and sexual needs.
Many general myths about sexuality become exaggerated as you grow older. You may believe them, your children may accept them, and many physicians assume them. But you may be able to overcome the power and influence of these myths if you receive proper advice about them. Many people assume that sexual desire is lost after menopause. Although menopause is referred to as the “change of life,” this does not necessarily mean that your sexual needs and desires will change too. Many aspects of menopause, both physical and emotional, may lead to some changes in your sexual inclinations. You may feel less attractive to your partner because you associate menopause with “growing old.” Your partner may also react negatively if he is not aware of the normal changes that occur during this period of life. You may begin to feel worthless, if you connect your value as a woman with your ability to have children. You may fear that your partner will look elsewhere to younger, fertile women for sexual fulfillment.

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