Academic journal article
By DeLamater, John
The Journal of Sex Research , Vol. 49, No. 2-3
The sexual expression of typical, healthy older persons is a relatively neglected topic of research. There are hundreds of studies of the negative impact of specific illnesses, medical conditions, or medication on sexual functioning of persons over 55 years of age. Most of this work reflects a biomedical perspective, Recently, the advent of Viagra[R] and other forms of treatment have stimulated a substantial literature on the prevalence and pharmaceutical treatment of various sexual dysfunctions in later life. As noted by Tiefer (2007), much of this research also is based on a biomedical perspective, although there are exceptions (e.g., Laumann, Das, & Waite, 2008). The absence of research on sexuality in close relationships in later life was noted by Blieszner (2006) in a review of the literature. Neglect of the topic is strikingly evident in its omission from official documents. The World Health Organization (WHO) issued two reports in 2010: Developing Sexual Health Programmes: A Framework for Action (2010a) and Measuring Sexual Health." Conceptual and Practical Considerations and Related Indicators (2010b). Neither discusses sexual health/sexual functioning in later (post-reproductive) life. Similarly, there is no mention of the topic in Older Americans 2010: Key Indicators of Well-Being, published by the (United States) Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics (2010). Another striking indicator is the absence of research on sexuality from Living Long and Well in the 21st Century." Strategic Directions for Research on Aging, a document laying out "broad strategic goals and objectives" for future research on aging by the (United States) National Institute of Aging (2007).
This neglect is unfortunate. The dominance of research on problems of sexual functioning in later life creates a one-sided view and encourages the stereotype that healthy older people do not have or are not interested in sex. The lack of research based on representative samples of healthy people makes it difficult to develop generalizable models of sexual relationships in later life. Also, we cannot provide accurate information and support for older persons who wish to remain sexually active. Furthermore, there is little data on the potential benefits of sexual activity for quality of life, or data on which to base policy decisions regarding housing, sexual health care, and related programs for this age group.
An understanding of the realities and potentials of sexual function at older ages is important for many reasons. First, the number of older adults in the United States is large; in 2009, there were 37.8 million persons 65 and older, comprising 12.5% of the population (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010b). The U.S. Census Bureau projects that this group will more than double in size to 88.5 million in 2050, then comprising one in five Americans. Second, men and women in the United States are living longer; life expectancy at birth increased from 70.8 in 1970 to 77.7 in 2006, and is expected to increase to 79.5 by 2020 (U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, 2009). Even more significantly, active life expectancy at age 65 (i.e., years with no health-related difficulty performing instrumental activities of daily living) is estimated to increase by 2.5 years by 2022 (Manton, Gu, & Lamb, 2006) These changes significantly increase the number of years of potential sexual activity in later life. Third, as families are smaller, and men and women are living longer, they no longer spend most of their adult years bearing and raising children; new stages of the later life course are emerging, including "empty nest" and "retirement" (Burgess, 2004). Individuals and couples may experience greater solitude and privacy during these years, and have greater opportunity to engage in sexual activity. All of these changes are occurring in many societies around the world.
Most importantly, regular (consensual) sexual expression contributes to physical and psychological well-being, and may reduce physical and mental health problems associated with aging (Burgess, 2004; Edwards & Booth, 1994). …