Sex and Sexuality in Late Adulthood

Sex and Sexuality in Late Adulthood


A person’s sexuality was defined by one’s sexual orientation, gender identity, and sexual feelings toward others. Sexuality was expressed by humans and changes throughout the different phases of life (Dhingra et al., 2016). Adults 65 years and above were commonly neglected in the thought about sex and sexuality. Sexual activities does not always include sexual intercourse. According to Kalra, Subramanyam, and Pinto (2011), the elderly generation often viewed sexuality as forms of affection, passion, and loyalty between both partners. Elderly men and women were usually mistaken of not having sexual desires or being unable to perform sexual activities (Kalra et al., 2011). Sex and sexuality helped older men and women form a sense of self-confidence, idenity, and reduces anxiety (Kalra et al., 2011). Although for many elderly people, sex came as a challenge. As people age, physical and mental aspects may have interfered with the act of sex. Treatments were avaiable for older people to increase the enjoyment of sex. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) were common among the older generation because older people were not knowledgeable about STDs. The knowledge younger adults had about the sexual acts of older people was not commonly talked about in the media. Many people did not think elderly people have the ablilty to perform sexual acts. Although, nursing homes were familiar with the needs of older adults and include policies that allow residents to fulfill sexual desires.


Aging was the process of growing older which is inevitable. Aging included many changes in the body and mind. As humans age, the thoughts and desires that was incldued with sex were still relevant. The need for sex in late adulthood was equivlent to men and women as young adults. Aging affected many aspects of humans ability to perform sexual activity. In normal aging, sex hormones may have decreased in both men and women (Barron & Pike, 2012). In aging men, the decrease of testosterone was common (Barron & Pike, 2012). After menopause, the ovarian sex hormone, such as pogestorone, decreased quickly in women (Barron & Pike, 2012). Aging also came with many health problems that interfere with participating in sexual activity.

Problems Encountered

As humans age, many health problems may have arisen. Health problems caused the desire for sexual activity to decrease. Health problems in the elderly included psychological problems, physical changes, and dysfunctions in males and females (Taylor & Gosney, 2011). Another problem that would have decreased sexual desires would be a death of a partner (Taylor & Gosney, 2011). Many people did not find the need of partaking in sexual acts when a life partner had passed away.

Both men and women went through physical and psychological changes where simple everyday activities may have been complicated, not to mention participating in sexual activity. An article by Dhingra, Sousa and Sonavane (2016) stated that elderly people who developed arthritis, chronic pain, and many other illnesses and disabilities that interfered with the ability in performing sexual intercourse (Dhingra et al., 2016). A few types of psychological disorders included mood, personality, and psychotic disorders (Dhingra et al., 2016). There were many more types of physical and psychological disorders that occurred in late adulthood that affected sexual activity.

Elderly men were commonly diagnosed with develop erectile dysfunction (ED) with the increase of age. ED was the inability of a man to keep or maintain an erection for sexual intercourse (Rew & Heidelbaugh, 2016). According to Rew and Heidelbaugh (2016), ED affected men as young as 40 years of age. There were 12 million men documented of having ED in the United States (Rew & Heidelbaugh, 2016). The conditions that were common causes of ED are diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and prostate cancer treatments (Rew & Heidelbaugh, 2016). Many different types of medications and substances increased the likelihood of ED. Some examples were the use of alcohol, tobacco, and even marijauana (Rew & Heidelbaugh, 2016).

On the other hand, women developed different types of female sexual dysfunctions. Female dysfunctions could have arisen at anytime in older women but women were more common during and after menopause. Female sexual dysfunction may have included the decrease in sexual arousal, anorgasmia, and dyspareunia (Taylor & Gosney, 2011). Urogenital atrophy was a common female dysfunction that commonly arisen after a woman reaches menopause. Urogenital atrophy was associated with the symptoms of vaginal itching, dryness, and pain (Taylor & Gosney, 2011). Female dysfunctions lead to emotional distress, low self-esteem, and poor body image (Taylor & Gosney, 2011).


Many older adults were commonly embarrassed by a sexual dysfunction and did not communicate with a doctor for treatment (Taylor & Gosney, 2011). There were many different treatments and medicines for men and women in late adulthood that increased the enjoyment of sexual activity. Depending on the women and the type of dysfunction, there were different

types of treatments to make sexual activity more enjoyable. Women may have taken medications perscibed by a doctor, tried vibrators and lubricants, or looked into many different types of therapies to enhance sex life (Taylor & Gosney, 2011). For men, the main treatment for ED included medications, such as viagra. Penile injections and vacuum devices were also considered to treat ED (Taylor & Gosney, 2011). In late adulthood, romantic partners did not have to have sexual intercourse to show affection. Affection was also shown by hugging, kissing, and holding hands with a significant other if physical and psychological problems got in the way of sexual activity.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Young adults were more informed about STDs than the older population. Similar to younger adults, sexually active elderly people were just as susceptible of getting an STD. In today’s world, older adults did not grow up with the information about how to prevent STDs or the basic sex education as younger generations (Dhingra et al., 2016). Older adults did not know when to contact a doctor because of an STD. Many STDs did not have early symptoms, therefore, elderly people did not know of an STD which may have lead to serious damage to the body (Dhingra et al., 2016). Symptoms of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) caused symptoms of weakness, fatigue, and memory loss (Dhingra et al., 2016). Doctors commonly misdiagnosed symptoms of HIV for symptoms of aging (Dhingra et al., 2016).

Sexuality in Nursing Homes

Many older people were living in nursing homes all around the United States. People moved into nursing homes for assisted care that is not provided otherwise. Many of the elderly in nursing homes had urges for sexual activity. The government had set a law for nursing homes to allow privacy for residents and to let sexuality be expressed freely (Gugliucci & Weaver, 2012). “Gray rape” was a term commonly used in nursing homes that referred to the act of sex between two people but both people were unsure of who consented (Gugliucci & Weaver, 2012). Nursing home residents had many psychological disabilities such as dementia. According to Gugliucci and Weaver (2012), about 50 percent of nursing home residents had dementia to an extent. Dementia caused people to lose memory or be unaware of any actions made (Gugliucci & Weaver, 2012). The need for intimacy by nursing home residents was a common aspect that many people did not talk about in society. Nursing homes or care units had trained staff that supports all the needs of residents.


Religion was a major part in many people’s lives. Many people believed that older adults view religious norms in a way that enhanced sexual expressions (Iveniuk & O’Muircheartaigh, 2016). According to McFarland, Uecker, and Regnerus (2011), religion became more important to people as age increases. In many situations, elderly people focused on religion to help cope with health related illnesses (McFarland et al., 2011). People may have also turned to religion when thinking about sexual behavior. In many religions, young adults believed to save sexual activities for marriage (McFarland et al., 2011). In a long marriage, both the man and woman should keep expressing affection towards each other in any way possible if not by sexual intercourse.

Media Influence

The media, in general, was a major platform for thoughts and emotions to be expressed. The media failed to mention or portrayed sexuality in late adulthood as a negative action (Dhingra et al., 2016). According to Dhingra et al. (2016) younger women viewed older men as sexually attractive. The sexuality of older adults was not portrayed in the media. An Inidan study concluded that people viewed sex as a act only for reproduction and was viewed as wrong for older adults to partake in (Dhingra et al., 2016). With the absence of sexuality in older adults in the media, many people seemed to automatically view sexual activities as negative actions.


In conclusion, the desire for sexual activities did not decrease as age increases. Although the act of sex may have decreased as people get older. Many older people may not have had the ability to participate in sexual intercourse, therefore, older people used other acts of affection toward partners. As humans age, mental and physical health interfered with participating in sexual activities. Elderly people developed several types of diseases, illnesses, and STDs. Both men and women experienced sexual dysfunctions. Men may have developed erectile dysfunction while women experienced uncomfort in the vaginal area that decreased the desire for sexual intercourse. While sexual dysfunctions arisen in older adults, there were treatments that could possibly enhance the need for sex. Men and women were percribed medication or seeked therapy to solve problems that interfered with sex life. Many religions had an impact sexuality in late adulthood. Although older adults had the desire for sexual activity, people did not express feelings toward elderly sexual needs in the media. Nursing homes were trained on how to take cause of residents that had sexual desires. Overall, sexual desires were still common in late adulthood but could have been prevented by health problems that were caused from increasing age.


  • Barron, A. M., & Pike, C. J. (2012). Sex hormones, aging, and Alzheimer’s disease.

    Frontiers in bioscience (Elite edition)



    , 976–997.
  • Dhingra, I., Sousa, A. D., & Sonavane, S. (2016). Sexuality in older adults: Clinical and psychosocial dilemmas.

    Journal of Geriatric Mental Health

    , (2), 131. doi: 10.4103/2348-9995.195629
  • Gugliucci, M. R., & Weaver, S. A. (2012). Defining moments: Sexuality and care of older adults. Retrieved from re-of-older-adults/
  • Iveniuk, J., O’Muircheartaigh, C. (2016). Religious influence on older americans’ sexual lives: A nationally-representative profile.

    Archives of sexual behavior



    (1), 121–131. doi:10.1007/s10508-015-0534-0
  • Kalra, G., Subramanyam, A., & Pinto, C. (2011). Sexuality: Desire, activity and intimacy in the elderly.

    Indian journal of psychiatry



    (4), 300–306. doi:10.4103/0019-5545.91902
  • McFarland, M. J., Uecker, J. E., & Regnerus, M. D. (2011). The role of religion in shaping sexual frequency and satisfaction: Evidence from married and unmarried older adults.

    Journal of sex research



    (2-3), 297–308. doi:10.1080/00224491003739993
  • Rew, K. T., & Heidelbaugh, J. J. (2016). Erectile dysfunction.

    Am Fam Physician



    (10), 820-827.
  • Taylor, A., Gosney M. A. (2011) Sexuality in older age: essential considerations for healthcare professionals.

    Age and Ageing



    (5), 538–543. doi: 10.1093/ageing/afr049