The authors focus on the special issues involved in providing counseling to aging gay men regarding sex and intimacy. Although the stresses of aging experienced by gay men are similar to those of heterosexual men, older gay men face issues of a stigmatized sexual orientation, invisibility, negative stereotypes, and discrimination regarding aging.
The stereotype of the aging gay man is changing with increased research on this numerically larger and increasingly more important group (Berger, 1982; Kelly, 1977; Kimmel, 1977; Pope & Schulz, 1990). Prior to the mid-1970s, the social stereotype was that he no longer goes to bars, because he has lost his physical attractiveness and his sexual appeal to the young men he craves. He is oversexed, but his sex life is very unsatisfactory. He has been unable to form a lasting relationship with a sexual partner, and he is seldom sexually active anymore. When he does have sex, it is usually in a "tearoom" (public toilet). He has disengaged from the gay world and his acquaintances in it. In short, his life is composed of little intimacy and little sex.
Researchers, however, have given us a totally different picture. Kelly (1977), Kimmel (1977), Berger (1982), and later Pope and Schulz (1990) reported starkly different data from these stereotypes in their pioneering studies on this population. The sex life of the older gay man was, characteristically, quite satisfactory, and he desired sexual contact and intimacy with adult men, especially those near his own age. He continued to both desire sex and to have sexual contact, to have long-term relationships, and to be involved in the gay community.
Kimmel (2000) found that what constitutes the beginning of old age in U.S. society is now rather ambiguous and that many chronologically "old" people are active sexually, physically, emotionally, and intellectually. Therefore, how does aging affect the context of people's lives and their self-esteem, intimacy, and relationships? What types of relationships will play a part in maintaining a satisfying life as people age? These universal questions present a specific set of challenges and rewards for gay men as they age.
Sexual behavior, as a basic need, is an important issue for all males in U.S. society and is subject to a host of societal messages (Pope & Barret, 2002). One does not have to look far to see the overt sexual messages that infuse every aspect of U.S. culture.
Male sexuality in our cultural view is shaped by the scripts boys are offered almost from birth, by the cultural lessons they learn throughout the life course, among them the belief in a sometimes overpowering male sex drive and the belief that men have immutable sexual needs that are manifested over and above individual attempts at repression. (Blumstein & Schwartz, 1990, p. 310)
The desirable male images that appear in the media are strong, aggressive, sexually skillful, athletic, confident, and above all, young. Men, regardless of sexual orientation, see the images daily and undoubtedly struggle with their inability to embody all of those idealized masculine traits (Pollack, 1998). Depictions of hypermasculinity are particularly visible within the gay male culture and include such images as buff bodybuilders, men dressed in uniforms or leather, and men who have frequent casual sex. Men who do not personify machismo, in an attempt to refute the negative stereotype about gay men, risk appearing to be effeminate and not "real" men. These social images may not serve aging gay men well.
GAY MEN AND AGING: AN OVERVIEW
Over the last 3 decades, several researchers (e.g., Adelman, 1990; Berger, 1996; Friend, 1980; Isay, 1996; Kelly, 1977; Kimmel, 1978; Pope, 1997; Quam, 1993) have begun to address aging within the gay male community. Gay men face aging issues similar to those of their heterosexual counterparts, but there are enough differences to warrant discussion of this population's challenges and issues (Wierzalis, Barret, Pope, & Rankins, 2006). Some of the stresses that are unique to the older gay man are stigmatized sexual orientation, invisibility related to their sexual orientation, and general negative stereotypes and discrimination regarding aging (Brown, Sarosy, Cook, & Quarto, 1997).
To date, there have been no studies focused solely on bisexual aging men's sexuality, although participants in some studies have reported engaging in bisexual behavior. Articulation of bisexual identity is complex, because it can be related to a variety of sexual experiences and can lead to a different discourse concerning intimacy and relationship needs. Because no data are available regarding the issues facing this population, we do not address these individuals in this article.
Discussion of sexual and intimacy needs in mid- to late-adult gay men's lives would be incomplete without an examination of the developmental experiences and issues that shape many of their mental and emotional responses. Generations of gay men emerge into their years as older adults bearing witness to the prejudice and rejection they have known throughout their lives. Although the current atmosphere in which gay men live involves greater visibility, older gay men came out in a climate of severe oppression and stigmatization.
Homosexuals over the age of 65 [in 1997] were born before 1932 and thus began to formulate their understanding of homosexuality when the stigmatization of homosexuality ... constituted the dominant discourse. This discourse was not significantly challenged until the late 1960s when gay liberation, a "quintessential identity movement" galvanized by the Stonewall rebellion of 1969, topicalized and condemned it, replacing it with a discourse constructing homosexuality as a positive political identity imbuing the homosexual not with stigma, but with status. (Rosenfeld, 1999, p. 122)
This new status imbues life with potential and promise for gay men as they seek intimacy and forge relationships. Now, cohorts of gay men are living more openly--many in intimate relationships--offering encouragement to earlier generations of gay men who are entering midlife and their later adult years. The opportunity exists for a better quality of life for gay and bisexual men as they age because greater understanding of sexual behavior, intimacy, and relationships in later life continues to emerge. Nonetheless, many older gay men struggle with the vestiges of stigma and shame that were so evident in their youth.
LIFE SPAN AND IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT
Developmental issues across the life span of gay men differ from those experienced by heterosexual men in many ways, including the process of coming out. This developmental task challenges gay men on both a personal and societal level throughout their lives. The life course patterns of men exploring their sexual identifies and the timing of their coming out contribute to essential differences that are reflected in …