Sexuality: Desire, Activity and Intimacy in the Elderly

By Kalra, Gurvinder; Subramanyam, Alka et al. | Indian Journal of Psychiatry, October-December 2011 | Go to article overview

Sexuality: Desire, Activity and Intimacy in the Elderly


Kalra, Gurvinder, Subramanyam, Alka, Pinto, Charles, Indian Journal of Psychiatry


Byline: Gurvinder. Kalra, Alka. Subramanyam, Charles. Pinto

Background: Sexual function and activity in old age have been inadequately studied world over. It is important to know that aging processes are not confined to persons beyond the age of 60 years; many changes in elderly have their antecedents in the middle age. Aims: This study sought to determine the patterns of sexual activity and function in individuals over 50 years of age. It also sought to discuss barriers such as chronic illness that may interfere with sexual function. Materials and Methods: We conducted a study of subjects above the age of 50 years in various outpatient departments (OPDs) of a teaching municipal hospital in Mumbai, by interviewing 60 individuals who attended the OPDs, after taking their informed consent. Socio-demographic and other information on their sexual function and activities were obtained. Data was analyzed using statistical package for social sciences v15. Results: 72% individuals below 60 were sexually active, while only 57% above 60 were active. Others had become completely abstinent at some time in their lives. Statistical analysis revealed significant gender, health and educational status based differences in the sample. Conclusion: Our study showed significant presence of sexual desire, activity and function even after the age of 50 years; a decline by the age of 60 and above was a finding that reflected more in women. Chronic illness did affect sexual function and desire.

Introduction

Although recognized as a fundamental driving force, human sexuality is frequently misunderstood and particularly in the elders, neglected. [sup][1] Human beings are actually never too old to enjoy a happy and healthy sex life. Despite this, many people, young and old alike, are astounded at the idea of people remaining sexually active in their sixties and beyond. It is frequently assumed that elder persons lose their sexual desires or that they are physically unable to perform. For the elders, the ability to remain sexually active is a major concern in their lives. Fear about the loss of sexual prowess in older males is common. Older women also express sexual desire, but may fear their interest is undignified and disgraceful. Some elder persons may even freely accept their interests in sex, but their children or grandchildren may disapprove, making them feel guilty. The elder often view sexuality as an expression of passion, affection, admiration, and loyalty, a renewal of romance, a general affirmation of life, especially the expression of joy and a continuing opportunity for growth and experience. In addition, sexual activity is a means for the elder to affirm physical functioning, to maintain a strong sense of identity and establish self-confidence, and to prevent anxiety. It remains a mode of pure physical pleasure as well. However, not all elder persons have positive attitudes about sexuality. Like all persons, elders may experience sexual dysfunction due to boredom, fear, fatigue, grief, or other factors (e.g., intrinsically low sexual desire, physical disability). Sexuality in the elder is particularly affected by problems that are common in this age group, for example, depression, medical disorders, or incapacitation or death of a partner. [sup][2]

Aging is characterized by physiological, pathological, behavioral, and psychosocial changes that can all affect sexual functioning, and it is difficult to disentangle their individual effects. Clinicians tend to ignore this aspect of the lives of elders, who themselves can find sexual problems very difficult to talk about. In psychiatric interview of elders, sexual history and details are often omitted. Human sexuality and particularly sexuality in the elderly is an area that requires more attention in psychiatric training. [sup][3] A marked increase in life expectancy over the past century has meant that individuals over the age of 65 years form an increasingly large proportion of our population. …

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