A Cyndi Lauper song from the 1980s made the claim that “girls just wanna have fun,” but we could easily change those lyrics to say “seniors just wanna have fun.” And that includes in the bedroom.
It’s not just a few seniors who are seeking some excitement. The National Poll on Healthy Aging from the University of Michigan found that 76% of seniors say sex is “an important part of a romantic relationship at any age,” and 54% were currently sexually active.
Nearly a third of older adults reported being single in 2018. This number has risen in the past few decades due to higher rates of divorce among those 50 and older. The “gray divorce rate” has nearly doubled since 1990, according to research from Bowling Green State University.
For a long time, sex among seniors has been a nearly ignored topic of conversation and research, but as more people are living longer by staying active, sex has entered the conversation more frequently. Seniors re-entering the dating scene after a divorce or death of a spouse can find the rules of dating (and sex) have changed drastically from the last time they were intrepid singles.
New opportunities, new concerns
For some, entering into a new sexual relationship as a senior can be a freeing experience.
It may be the first time some have experienced the beginning of a sexual relationship without having to worry about an unplanned pregnancy, which can make it easy to ignore the need for protection. However, rising sexually transmitted infection (STI) rates among seniors show that foregoing protection could be more dangerous than many seniors think.
According to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cases of syphilis, for example, rose 120% between 2014 and 2018 in the 55 and older population. Other STIs show similar growth in the older adult demographic, which means it’s definitely better to be safe than sorry.
Pepper Schwartz, an expert in the fields of sexuality and intimacy and a tenured professor at the University of Washington, claimed that although STIs don’t pose an extra risk to seniors, they are definitely something to be concerned about.
“The fact is that unprotected sex can be dangerous to everyone,” she said. “Seniors don’t need to have a special risk to be at high risk. Seniors are no less at risk than other people. All a person needs is one sexual experience unprotected with a carrier.”
Talking about senior sex
Staying safe isn’t difficult, and it doesn’t have to be awkward, but many older adults never received formal education about safe sex and may not know how to have those important conversations. Safe sex should be a non-negotiable at the beginning of any sexual relationship.
Scwartz suggests seniors talk about sex before it even enters the equation. If a relationship is heading toward a sexual encounter, they should start discussing past histories before they hit the bedroom.
“You are mature people,” she said. “You need to act like it, but research shows that adolescents are more likely to discuss this kind of issue than much older people. So time to man and woman up and talk about your need to protect yourself and them from anything you may not know is in your system or theirs.”
For extra peace of mind, having both people get tested for STIs before beginning a sexual relationship is a good idea. Many STIs don’t have noticeable symptoms. Getting tested allows everyone to be sure the relationship won’t leave them with unexpected consequences.
Schwartz recommends that seniors educate themselves about sexually transmitted infections and recommends the American Social Health Association as well as the Sex Ed for Social Change websites for accurate information
Until seniors are in a committed, monogamous relationship where they know their partner’s sexual history, condoms are the best way to protect both individuals from getting an STI. They should use a water-based lubricant with the condom to get the best protection. Both Trojan and Durex condoms have high standards, Schwartz claims.
Safe sex isn’t the only thing to think about in a relationship. Whether seniors are in a new relationship or a long-standing one, physical limitations can get in the way of satisfying senior sex, but that doesn’t have to be the case.
Senior should consider new positions that alleviate stress on painful joints, and they should talk with their doctors about any issues they may be having that affect their sex life – whether they’re related to pain or sex-specific concerns like erectile dysfunction or vaginal dryness.
Sex isn’t the only thing
According to the AARP, sex isn’t the first concern for single seniors looking for a relationship.
“Our AARP 2019 dating research showed that sex was a relatively low factor in older adults’ motivations to date. Just four percent cite sex as their motivator, while over half cite companionship or wanting a partner. Similarly, in 2009 in a poll on love and relationships, over three-quarters of respondents 50+ strongly or somewhat agree with the statement ‘true love can exist without a radiant/active sex life’ (79%).”
Whether sex is part of the equation or not, relationships provide emotional support and companionship at any age. Seeking out the perfect person to share a life with can and should be a rewarding, fun and safe experience—no matter the age.