Updated: Nov 19, 2018
In an age when Match.com, SilverSingles.com, OurTime.com, EliteSingles.com, etc., pop up as ads on your social media and email accounts every day younger people joke about the fact that those of us over the age of 50 actually still have and enjoy a robust sex life.
Nothing prepares younger generations for the thought of their parent’s being intimate and having sex, unless perhaps you were raised on a commune. If ones’ parent are in their eighties and are giddy with passion, you might feel, if not exactly appalled, then maybe envious. In fact, research reveals that people 50+ are more sexually active than ever before.
In a 2018 AARP/University of Michigan survey research revealed that two thirds of people age 50 – 80, both married and unmarried, were sexually active. Moreover, as homosexuality gains more acceptance in the culture at large, gays, lesbians, transgender and bisexual men and women are “coming out” of their closeted lives at a steady pace. According to a 2015 UCLA study there are 1.5 million LGBTQ people over the age of 65 in the U. S. They expect that population to more than double by 2030 as more and more older adults “come out”.
Oftentimes, someone over age 50 has led a life that involves marriage, children, even grandchildren. Suddenly they announce that they are gay, that they have always been gay, and that they can’t take hiding who they really are any longer. Think of the recent TV series Grace and Frankie with Jane Fonda (Grace) and Lily Tomlin (Frankie) where their TV husbands (Sam Waterson and Martin Sheen) announce that they have been in a homosexual relationship for more than two decades and that they want divorces from their wives so that they can get married to one another.
Family dynamics are especially complex in situations where the person coming out has been married for decades. He or she may fear the ramifications of coming out to family members, especially their children, and in the workplace. A person often feels “safe enough” to come out when they have already begun a loving, sexual relationship and they want to be free to get married and settle down. More often than not, no one is shocked about the news.
But what is sex like for a couple who are entering their 50th year of marriage? Can sex with the same person stay passionate and fun for a lifetime? In a 2015 book titled 30 Lessons for Loving: Advice From The Wisest Americans On Love, Relationships and Marriage, hundreds of long-time married people spoke about their love-life.
Here’s the observation of Alfredo Doyle 77. “Whatever it is you’re doing, just keep doing it,” he said. “You make do with what you’ve got basically….” But I also learned that the idea of sex expands to include a much wider range of loving and supportive behaviors than sexual intercourse.
Listen to what Rebecca Gibson 81 had to say: “Even if you can’t complete the sexual act, cuddling and touching are very important.” Barring a troubled relationship history, or serious physical problems, the sexual side of a long-term marriage is going to be good enough and possibly much better than that.
Then there was Karl Johnson, nearly 84. From the age of 16 he’d loved just one woman and had been a devoted husband to her. Through her 15 years of dementia he’d cared for her with loving kindness. But, after 64 years of marriage, a year after she died he fell in love with a woman who handed out the hymnals at his church. One Sunday, she slipped a note into the hymnal she handed him. It wasn’t the quiet friendly love of octogenarians. The way Karl recounted it; it was like teenage love. “The touch of her hand sends me crazy,” he said. Whether the sex they had included actual intercourse wasn’t clear, but their relationship was both romantic and deeply intimate.
On the flip side of sex after 50, it’s not all fun and games. Baby Boomers (1946-1964) came of age in an unprecedented era of sexual liberation. But “free love” isn’t free of sexually transmitted diseases which are continuing to follow them right into their 50s, 60s, and 70s. In fact, in a recent study the highest incidence of new AIDS cases are occurring among “straight” people in senior living communities. Free of the fear if getting pregnant, older woman aren’t thinking about the other “gifts” of sex (STDs and AIDS) and don’t insist on condoms according to a study recently published by Harvard University (2018).
Nonetheless, it is important to let every generation know that sex is for the living regardless of age. It’s important for nursing homes to re-write their rules about allowing residents to sleep together for comfort and have consensual sex if desired. It’s important for doctors to talk openly and honestly with their patients about their sex life as they age. It’s important to change the stereotypes about sexless elders. But can we do this necessary work in a way that doesn’t make a lot of people feel bad; people who can't find a compatible sexual partner as they’ve grown older, or don’t want it, or find it all too difficult? Many might revel in being “sexy seniors” but some might be happy or resigned to putting that part of their life to bed.