a publication of the sexuality and aging consortium at widener university

Talking about Sex at a Senior Education Fair

Terri Clark, MPH, CHES

I was delighted to represent the Consortium while facilitating two sexuality workshops during a recent Senior Education Fair hosted by the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging. Turn out was terrific, with nearly a dozen people at each session engaging in lively, spirited, and honest conversation.
The goal of the workshop was to create a safe, supportive and educational space for seniors to talk about sexuality, and, of course, to answer their questions.  Using Dennis Dailey’s Circles of Sexuality model as a jumping off point for discussion, participants immediately grasped the sensuality and intimacy circles, sharing with their peers their own needs for intimacy and how their definition of intimacy has evolved over the years.
Through their stories, the participants expressed a range of attitudes and feelings, especially regarding the messages they received growing up about sex and sexuality.  When I asked them about the benefits of having sex (as they defined sex), their responses included “gives me more energy”, “helps relieve stress”, “keeps me company”, and “it just feels good”.
Many of their questions addressed common misinformation about sexuality and aging. For example, a man who had prostate cancer wondered if he could have sex again; while a few women wanted to know what kind of lubricant was best for vaginal dryness.  One spry participant said she wanted to know more about masturbation and using sex toys.
Clearly, many older adults want and need to be close to others as they grow older. Intimate relationships come in many shapes and sizes.  Over time, couples or singles develop forms of physical intimacy that do not match with what they had previously thought of as ‘sex’.  By keeping an open mind about what sex and intimacy mean, people will be better able to focus on the pleasurable aspects of their relationship and worry less about the rest.
At the end of each workshop, I encouraged the participants to bring the information back to their peers. I also asked them to inform staff who run programs they attend to consider including a program on older adult sexuality. I hope the conversations that were started that Saturday afternoon will continue in some way.


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