Intimacy, a sense of closeness, and emotional bonding is a natural desire for all humans. Emotional intimacy occurs when we share similar values with another person, while developing trust and feelings with them. Physical intimacy refers to actions like hugging, cuddling, kissing, and sexual intercourse.
Sex is a healthy and important activity for seniors. In fact, sexual activity with or without a partner is linked to some impressive, research-backed health benefits, says Kate Thomas, director of clinical services at The Johns Hopkins Sex and Gender Clinic. And, she noted, it’s not just for young people. AARP discusses sex among seniors, where Thomas points out —“Sex can be hugely beneficial for people as they get older, not only for the reported medical health benefits but for our psychological and emotional health. It can strengthen our relationships, promote self-esteem and improve our sense of identity.”
Sex: Good for Mind and Body
There’s a large misconception among older men— many fear that sex could trigger a heart attack. Studies have shown, however, that it’s rare. Your heart actually benefits from regular sexual activity, which could positively impact many senior adults who are susceptible to heart issues. An AARP article by Michelle Crouch includes several researched based studies which support an active sex life over the age of 50 in relation to heart health and beyond. The American Journal of Cardiology found that men who had sex at least twice a week were 50 percent less likely to die of heart disease compared with men who had it once a month. For women, a large analysis revealed that those who are satisfied with their sex lives are less likely to have peripheral artery disease, a condition that narrows the arteries and makes stroke more likely.
If you need more of a reason to support an active sex life as a senior, consider your pelvic floor. A study published in International Urogynecology Journal found that sexually active women were significantly more likely to have a strong pelvic floor compared with those who were not sexually active. Women are more likely to experience urinary incontinence as they age, which can be upsetting and embarrassing for many. A strong pelvic floor for women can help create more control of the bladder. Muscle tension occurs naturally in the pelvic floor when people have sex, so, more sex equals a stronger pelvic floor and less urinary incontinence!
Safe Sex is Still Important
According to the Centers for Disease Control’s annual Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance Report, cases of several common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have reached historic highs among elderly populations in the U.S. including chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. Seniors tend to underestimate their risk of spreading and contracting STDs, likely as a result from less condom use, with no concern for pregnancies. Sexually transmitted diseases can bring on an increased risk for long-term health issues like HIV, increased cancer risk, and cardiovascular and neurological problems.
Senior communities provide socialization through fun activities, which can often lead to physical and emotional connections being formed between residents. The possibility of finding a connection with another person in the later stages of life is a beautiful thing, however, it’s important that seniors remain safe in their intimate encounters. A report by the Huffington Post suggests that many of today’s baby boomers were already married when sex education gained popularity in the 1980s and therefore missed the “safe sex” talks and never learned “safe sex etiquette.” The spread of STDs and STIs among senior living communities can also be due to the embarrassment seniors face discussing sexual issues with their family physician.
If the senior you care for is in need of assisted living, a positive aspect you could work into the conversation when you bring up the possibility of a move, is the potential for them to make a romantic connection in their new senior community. Changing home environments can be overwhelming, but their new social life could bring intimacy back into their life after spending time alone or being isolated. This could also be a good time to discuss safe sex. Don’t let an uncomfortable conversation stop you from educating your senior loved ones on ways to protect their sexual health. We all deserve love and intimacy no matter the age— so it’s important to have conversations about keeping ourselves safe, feeling valued, and remaining healthy.