Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

"Let's Talk about Sex": Discussions in Seniors' Online Communities

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

"Let's Talk about Sex": Discussions in Seniors' Online Communities

Article excerpt

Introduction

Seniors' online communities are groups of older adults who interact online through diverse applications such as chat rooms and forums. Such communities seem to be increasing in popularity, and some of them already have hundreds and even thousands of members. A study exploring the content and characteristics of seniors' online communities demonstrated that the communities serve as a platform for discussing every possible subject, including private and public concerns, serious and casual issues, and many general matters as well as topics exclusive for seniors such as aging and retirement (Nimrod, 2010). The aforementioned study also showed that the communities enable the expression of a wide range of emotions, ranging from very negative to very positive (Nimrod). To date, the potential roles of seniors' online communities with respect to sex-related communication have not been explored.

Freely chosen sex is an important pleasurable leisure experience (Freysinger & Kelly, 2004; Godbey, 2008; Meaney & Rye, 2007) that may provide older adults with many physical and psychological benefits (cf. Laumann et al., 2006; Lindau et al., 2007). However, some factors associated with old age, such as health conditions and widowhood, may constrain seniors' ability to have and/or enjoy sex (cf. DeLamater & Moorman, 2007; Taylor & Gosney, 2011). As many older adults avoid sharing their sexual problems with their physicians (Foster, Clark, Holstad, & Burgess, 2012; Lindau et al., 2007), they are often left with no solutions.

A recent study of online communities for people with depression found that, among other functions, participants employed this channel to search for sex-related information, give and receive advice, share, and vent (Berdychevsky, Nimrod, Kleiber, & Gibson, 2013). Similarly, by allowing for anonymity and invisibility, seniors' online communities may offer older adults a safe sphere for discussing sex-related concerns. This study aimed to explore whether members use seniors' online communities for the discussion of sexual topics, and what characterizes the sex-related discussions in these communities.

Literature Review

The purpose of this section is to show evidence that many older adults are sexually active, but ageist stereotypes fuel the tendency of neglecting this topic. This paucity of research is absurd since various benefits of sexual activity as well as constraints taking tolls on the seniors' sexuality should position it at the core of the researchers' and practitioners' attention. Additionally, this section discusses the role of the Internet in light of seniors' limited options for sex-related communication and education.

Studies of sex in later life have demonstrated that many older adults are sexually active and that people continue to feel sexy and are able to physically express their sexuality beyond their reproductive years (Cooperman, Arnsten, & Klein, 2007; DeLamater & Sill, 2005; Lindau et al., 2007; Marsiglio & Donnelly, 1991; Walz, 2002). Although some studies suggest that age negatively affects sexual desire, it is not considered a critical factor until age 70 and over (DeLamater & Sill, 2005; Hillman, 2008), and many older adults tend to maintain levels of sexual activity they established earlier in life (Walz, 2002). Moreover, Loe (2012) found that even the very old (aged 85+) enjoy intimacy and achieve both familiar and new forms of pleasure and sensuality.

The role of sexuality for older adults is gradually getting more attention and becoming more socially acceptable than in the past (Bouman, Arcelus, & Benbow, 2006; Jung & Schill, 2004). Many studies have documented the importance and health benefits of sexuality and intimate relationships in later life (Bonifazi, 2000; DeLamater & Sill, 2005; Gott & Hinchliff, 2003; Lindau et al., 2007; Nicolosi et al., 2004), and some have shown that sex is often associated with a sense of vitality as well as feeling young and healthy (Loe, 2006). …

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