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Sexuality and Sexual Health among Older Adults

NHCOA/May 2017.- According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2016), it is expected that by the year 2033 the population of older adults will outnumber people younger than 18 in the United States. With the life expectancy of older adults increasing, we must continue educating and informing this population on maintaining a healthy quality of life. Many older adults continue to be independent, expressing their basic needs and engaging in and enjoying sexual relationships.

Aging is a natural process of life and it is normal for the body and its functions to go through physiological and emotional changes, such as cognitive loss, and even higher vulnerability to diseases. However, basic needs, such as intimacy, love, desire for contact, and emotional expressions are a necessary part of fulfillment for everyone. Sexuality varies among all individuals since it is influenced by multiple factors including age, sexual orientation, religion, cultural values, and physical aspects that reflect each individual’s sexuality.

Growing older does not necessarily restrict one from having or enjoying sex.  Evidence suggests that most seniors’ desire and enjoy sexual activities with their partners. Moreover, they are sexual beings that also need to fulfill needs such as empathy, feeling understood, accepted, being in company and heard by their loved ones. We must take into consideration that this population does not necessarily relate sexuality with intercourse. They may view the need for intimacy and the sensation of feeling loved as part of their sexual identity. Therefore, sexuality and intimacy are valuable and important for seniors when engaging in sexual activities with their respective partners.

Older adults are not immune from needing to practice safe sexual activities; activities based on mutual respect, agreement, and healthy relationships. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), sexual health involves physical, emotional, and mental well-being employing a respectful and safe approach to sexuality including sexual relationships. As a result, many older adults continue to be sexual beings even if they experience physiological changes, chronic diseases, sexual dysfunctions, depression, etc., and they still enjoy various forms of intimacy and sexually active lifestyles. It’s important to empower older adults to keep their bodies healthy by giving them access to health education and sexual health programs that are age appropriate so that they can continue to age in the best possible health and enjoy their golden years.