a publication of the sexuality and aging consortium at widener university

The Case for The Consortium — and You

By 2030, about 20 percent of the US population – that’s 71 million people — will be 65 or older. Odds are good that you will either be part of that population or will be joining it before long.

Adults are living longer and healthier, and there’s no good reason why they shouldn’t enjoy their sexuality. We’re not implying that every older adult wants to be partnered up, having more sexual interludes than ever. What we are saying, and what the Sexuality and Aging Consortium stands for, is the right for adults in mid- and older age to enjoy whatever level of sexual expression interests them without being constrained by societal assumptions, judgments, and policies that infringe on their sexual rights.SS4S couple

There are roadblocks that can keep older adults from enjoying their sexuality.

  • Poor health and fitness can decrease sexual function and pleasure.
  • Nearly 50% of people with HIV/AIDs are 50 or older. Heterosexual intercourse is the most common route of exposure.
  • Misinformation about typical, age-related physical and emotional changes can create frustration and decrease sexual desire.
  • Physicians rarely discuss sex with older patients, yet many age-related sexual problems are reversible with medical treatment, sex therapy and sexuality education.
  • Unfortunately, the lack of human services professions education in sexual diversity means that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender older adults may not feel safe disclosing their sexual identity to helping professionals.
  • Transgender adults with professional caregivers may lose privacy and the choice of what to disclose about their gender identity.
  • After losing life partners, many lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults are assumed to be straight, thereby losing social recognition of their orientation.
  • Grandparents who raise grandchildren often find their sexual lives dramatically affected by their caregiver role; the same is often true for older adults caring for their elderly parents.

People are living 25-30 years longer than they did in the early 1900’s. If we don’t want those decades to be sexless or sexually frustrating, we must change the way we socially construct sexuality and aging. We must also prepare helping professionals, paraprofessionals, and caregivers to help older adults be sexually expressive in ways that suit their abilities and interests.

The myth that sex is a younger person’s activity often makes older adult sex taboo. As a result, the young fear aging, while some older adults feel shame about their sexual desires and activities. Without age-appropriate sexuality education, older adults can put themselves at emotional and physical risk. Many newly single older adults are unprepared for today’s dating norms and for changes in sexual function that require new sexual scripts.

In 2011, a small group of sexuality educators and therapists – most of whom are members of the Sexuality and Aging Consortium — created content for SaferSex4Seniors.org, a health website including a safer sex public service announcement video created by a New York ad agency. The PSA noted that in Florida alone, sexually transmitted infections increased among older adults by 71% in 10 years. We should note that nationwide, from 2006 to 2010, STI rates among older adults rose by up to 135%.

SS4S couple AAReleased through social media, the video quickly garnered over 1 million hits and was shown on national and international media. As you might expect, headlines often perpetuated the myth that older adults have no business having sex. Reflecting a common ageist attitude about sex and aging, one advertising expert wrote: “The poses in this PSA really make me uncomfortable! Don’t make me think of grandma that way!”  …But why not?

Older adults are the fastest growing segment of the US population, yet there is little reliable information available about how sexual activity and function are affected by age, attitude, and illness. How might this lack of research affect you? One example is research conducted by LuckyBloke.com that shows 68% percent of male condom users select the wrong size. After sampling different brands, shapes and sizes to find the best fit, they reported that their pleasure skyrocketed. Melissa White, owner of Lucky Bloke, confirmed that no one is researching condoms for older couples dealing with less rigid erections that tend to fluctuate from hard to soft during a single sexual encounter.

Reflecting a common ageist attitude about sex and aging, one advertising expert wrote: “The poses in this PSA really make me uncomfortable! Don’t make me think of grandma that way!”

One logical solution is the internal condom manufactured by The Female Health Company. Commonly referred to as a “female condom” because it is designed to fit into the vagina, this device is an alternative that helping professionals need to know about so they can recommend it appropriately. The Female Health Company offers a free, short online class in how to educate the public in the internal condom’s use.

Sexual expression is an important part of life that we can enjoy into our 80s and beyond. In fact, studies report many older adults have highly satisfying sex lives, but Consortium Advisory Board member Peggy Kleinplatz found that they often do it only after tossing out misinformation garnered during their younger years.

How You Can Help

  • Prepare younger generations for sexually healthy futures by recommending that they maintain their health and fitness.
  • Suggest that older adults have sex several times weekly – alone or partnered – to release healthy hormones, preserve muscle, improve cognition, and decrease depression (this is great advice for people of any age).
  • Educate yourself about and advocate for older adults’ rights to sexual expression.
  • Join the Sexuality and Aging Consortium invites and be part of the movement to ensure older adults’ rights to sexual health, education, and expression. Working together, we gain authority, power, and the ability to influence on societal expectations and realities affecting the sexuality of older adults.

As a Consortium member, you may participate as actively as you wish to. Here’s how some of our members are participating:

  • Donate expertise in everything from non-profit consulting to writing, fund raising, volunteer coordination, graphic design, photography, and serving on our Board of Trustees
  • Provide education and counseling for older adults, their families and caregivers
  • We have members who consult on policy development for agencies, facilities and CCRCs
  • Train professionals and paraprofessionals in how to work within the parameters of newly crafted sexuality policies
  • Speaking to the media (print, online, broadcast) on behalf of the Consortium
  • Anita Hoffer developed and maintains bibliography of references and resources
  • Consortium founder and past president Peggy Brick has given countless keynotes and speeches on sexuality and aging
  • Jane Fleishman and Advisory Board member Patricia Koch are writing a journal article on research Pat conducted on students in Peggy Brick’s Older, Wiser, Sexually Smarter class.

    Widener University doctoral student Jane Fleishman, MEd shares her research with Jessica Metzner, MEd, MSW at the Sexuality, Intimacy and Aging Conference.

    Widener University doctoral student Jane Fleishman, MEd shares her research with Jessica Metzner, MEd, MSW at the Sexuality, Intimacy and Aging Conference.

  • Bill Taverner taught led a workshop on sexuality and aging during a High Tea sponsored by Planned Parenthood in Oregon; while there, he was interviewed by an National Public Radio affiliate
  • We have a number of bloggers and authors among our members, including Joan Price, who recently won the Catalyst Award at the CatalystCon West conference for her book, “Naked at Our Age.”
  • The two of us (Melanie Davis and Robin Goldberg-Glen) presented a TedTalk-style presentation at SEXx Philly; and we spoke about age-related sexual privilege at the Woodhull Summit on Sexual Freedom in Washington DC, and at the international Unitarian Universalist General Assembly of Congregations in Rhode Island.
  • Melanie and Consortium member Judith Hersh have taught medical students about sexuality and aging and recently spoke to New Jersey urogynecologists about their work with older female patients.
  • In 2015, Melanie and I will represent the Consortium at the annual meeting of the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education in Nashville, and we have submitted a proposal for the annual meeting of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists.
  • Terri Clark, Anita Hoffer, Peggy Brick, Ashley Mader and Robin have addressed sexuality and aging at the American Society on Aging annual meetings.
  • Terri Clark, Harry Getzov, Karen Hicks, Susie Wilson, Peggy Brick, Bobbi Knowlton, Rosara Torisi and other members have delivered consumer and professional programs and trainings as part of their involvement in the Consortium.
  • Anita Hoffer, Joan Garrity and Wayne Pawlowski had the Consortium’s support when they created and trademarked the Silver SAR(tm), an innovative sexuality attitude reassessment training program for professionals.
  • Consortium student volunteer Katelyn Regan enjoyed meeting Milton Diamond, PhD, world-renown expert on intersexuality, at the Sexuality, Intimacy and Aging Conference.

    Consortium student volunteer Katelyn Regan enjoyed meeting Milton Diamond, PhD, world-renown expert on intersexuality, at the Sexuality, Intimacy and Aging Conference.

    Graduate and undergraduate students help at our events and host their own educational meetings.

  • Melanie and Board member Jay Wexler are working to expanding our professional trainings delivered through webinars and in live settings for new audiences.

This is just a small sampling of the Consortium’s work, and we invite you to envision what you can do to advance the cause of sexual education, health, and rights for adults in mid- and later life.

We will serve as a resource for you and will partner with you as you delve more deeply into this much-needed work. We’re we’re all in this together, creating a more positive future for sexuality and aging.

Comments are closed.

Design by Hoverboard Media