Sex and Seniors

My daughter once told me she believed her dad, and I had sex only the number of times we had children; I have two!  It’s hard for us to look at our parents as anything other than our parents…not as men and women.

The reality is most people want and need to be close to others as they grow older, no different than when they were younger.  For some, this includes the desire to continue an active sex life.  With aging, that may mean adapting the sexual activity to accommodate physical, health, and other changes.

For others, it may mean just having that companion to hold hands with, spend time with and/or enjoy activities together, such as sharing a meal, watching television, playing bingo, etc.  These are normal behaviors for men and women, no matter what age.

As people age and events change their lives, whether a spouse passes, or they begin to have health challenges, they still look for the closeness of the opposite (or same) sex.  Adult children have a hard time wrapping their heads around “mom’s new boyfriend, she is 80 years old for Pete’s sake!”

Over the many years of caring for older adults, I have seen so many adult children get frantic and spend sleepless nights trying to figure out how to discourage their mom or dad from a relationship with another older adult.  We had a client that was head over heels for a gentleman that lived in her independent living community.  They were inseparable during the day and would spend the night together in one another’s apartment several times a week.  The daughter of the woman nearly drove herself crazy, fought with her mom on this relationship, and ultimately, they ended up not speaking.  I had a conversation with our client about the situation, and she confided in me that they weren’t even having sex.  They both just slept better having another person by their side.  After years of marriage and sleeping with their respective spouses for an excess of 50 years, they both were used to and comforted by having that back again since both of their spouses had been gone for several years.

We had another client diagnosed with Dementia.  Her husband was still alive and lived with her in the community.  She became obsessed with another male client we had that lived in the community and also had Dementia.  At first, her husband was really upset and hurt over the situation, but over time accepted it and allowed her to spend time during the day with this other man.  They would just sit in the atrium holding hands, not even speaking to each other for hours, but they both were content.  She would come back to their room after a few hours and was a very pleasant person.  Her husband and I spoke a lot during this time; we both felt she was living a calmer and more satisfying life by allowing her this relationship.  Their children, on the other hand, never accepted the situation and chastised their father every chance they had.  They didn’t understand the fact that he loved her so much that he wanted her to be happy, and with her disease, she was not intentionally hurting him. She just lacked the ability to be rational.  Now that is love!

Note:  Some people with Dementia show increased interest in sex and physical closeness, but they are not able to judge what is appropriate sexual behavior.  Those in the later stage of Dementia may not be able to recognize their spouse or partner, but still desire sexual contact or companionship and may seek it with someone else.  It can be confusing and difficult to know how to handle; speaking with professionals can sometimes help.

I have found that adult children can have better relationships with their aging parents if they try to take some of the emotion out of their reactions to these types of relationships and situations.  Trust me; I know it’s a hard thing to do, but, in the end, we all just want to be happy, surrounded by people we care about and love.  Good relationships with our aging parents and relatives are priceless.  Being able to have open conversations with each other makes all the difference in the world to all involved.   All of us want to be accepted by our loved ones, even if we can’t understand the choices that are being made.

Should I Be Worried About Safe Sex?

YES!  Age does not protect anyone from sexually transmitted diseases.  This is another reason to keep an open dialog with your aging loved one, uncomfortable as this type of conversation may be.

Older adults who are sexually active may be at risk for diseases such as syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydial infection, genital herpes, hepatitis B, genital warts, and trichomoniasis.  Almost anyone who is sexually active is also at risk for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.  The number of older adults with HIV/AIDS is growing.

It was probably uncomfortable for your parent to have “the talk” with you when you were coming of age.  Start a conversation with your parent about how they chose to handle the sex talk with you.  This may open the dialog for you should you find yourself in the situation of having your aging parent in a new relationship that makes you uncomfortable.