Sexuality in Older Age

Essential Considerations for Healthcare Professionals

Abi Taylor; Margot A. Gosney

Disclosures

Age Ageing. 2011;40(5):538-543. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

Abstract

This review describes the fact that many elderly people enjoy an active sex life and examines the evidence against the general perception of an 'asexual' old age. It offers an overview of the evidence for healthcare professionals who had not previously considered the sexuality of their older patients. It also describes some of the sexual problems faced by older people, especially the difficulties experienced in disclosing such problems to healthcare professionals. It examines why healthcare professionals routinely avoid discussing sexual problems with older patients, and how this can be improved. It also offers some recommendations for future research in the area, as well as a word of caution regarding the temptation of over-sexualising the ageing process.

Introduction

The population is ageing and this trend is expected to continue. By 2033, it is predicted that 23% of the UK population will be >65.[1] Therefore, issues affecting older people are becoming increasingly more important. In 2001, the UK Department of Health published The National Service Framework for Older People,[2] setting out a programme of action and reform to address problems in the management of elderly patients. There was, however, no mention of sexuality or the problems older people may face related to sexual issues. Likewise, The National Strategy for Sexual Health and HIV (2001)[3] is primarily aimed at younger people, with no mention of how sexual issues may affect older people. This gap in government policy mirrors the general perception and prejudices of an 'asexual' old age, of sex in older people being disgusting, or simply funny. Research suggests, however, that many older people enjoy an active sex life,[4] although they may face several problems. If healthcare professionals (HCPs) do not accept that older people may enjoy sex, then it is unlikely that sexual problems will be effectively explored, diagnosed and treated. This article aims to investigate some of the pertinent research dispelling the myth of a totally 'asexual' old age, and offer recommendations for HCPs including general practitioners (GPs), geriatricians and old age psychiatrists.

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