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Myths and Misconceptions and Their Impact on Understanding Older Adult Sexuality

Becoming more aware of the myths and realities of sexuality as we age can improve the health and quality of life for older adults and benefit society. Problems understanding and accepting sexual needs of elders may be compounded by the discomfort of others when communicating about such a personal subject. Have you ever been in a group and the subject of older adult sexuality was being discussed? What were the responses? “I don’t like to think about that.” “Do older adults think about or have sex?”   Based on accepted cultural beliefs, society’s attitude is that sexual needs such as kissing, holding hands, cuddling and intimacy matter less and less as people grow older. But does sexuality really diminish for all of the older population? Nonjudgmental attitudes, knowledge of facts and applied skills by professionals working with elders can facilitate education and discussion.
Many issues that arise in considering the sexuality of elders result from stereotypes in our culture. Attitudes and beliefs may discourage older individuals and couples from enjoying the continuing process of adjusting and growing as human beings.  Yes, there are age related changes in our bodies that may affect sexual function. However, older adults can maintain a healthy and active sex life no matter what birthday they celebrate. Social stigma regarding aging may deny elders their humanity and sense of sexual maturity. Sexual attitudes can have the potential to greatly restrict the pursuit and perception of sexual desires and activities.  Families, peers or the older adult themselves may not approve. For example, an individual who loses their spouse after many years of marriage may feel guilty about being intimate with someone else. They may feel they are betraying the spouse who has passed on. There are also attitudes reflected in gender double standards. Men and women are held to different socially accepted sexual behavior. Older men are viewed as sexual beings while older women are perceived as not. Our society may have become more permissive with time but not across all populations.
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