In their youth, baby boomers were well known for breaking taboos, especially with regards to sexual behavior. Easier access to birth control and changing moral values contributed to that. Now that this generation is approaching retirement age, it appears that some of these attitudes have survived and influence how sex among older adults is viewed today.
A vast majority of baby boomers is sexually active -- 87 percent of married men and 89 percent of married women between the ages of 60 and 64, according to surveys. For singles living in retirement communities, the numbers are not far behind. In fact, some of today's senior facilities have gotten quite a rap as college dorm-style playgrounds.
Still, most of society remains uncomfortable with the very thought of older people having sex. The reasons for this are as multiple as they are complex, says Dr. Tamara McClintock Greenberg, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco. We live in a predominantly youth-oriented society, she explains, where the idea of the elderly being sexually active doesn't fit in our concept of eroticism and desirability. Regrettably, this discomfort with thinking about older adults as sexual beings can lead to various forms of disapproval and even discrimination.
Despite all that, most experts agree that sex is a normal, healthy activity people should feel free to engage in for as long as they are physically capable and mentally inclined to do so. According to a recently published study, maintaining a healthy sex life at an advanced age is not only good for marital bliss but has other psychological and physical benefits as well. Also, achieving sexual fulfillment does not have to be limited to intercourse but can be expanded to other forms of intimacy like massage, sharing baths, etc.
But like it or not, aging puts increasing limitations on our physical abilities, including sexual agility. Both sexes may experience these changes quite differently. Free from fear of unwanted pregnancies, some women may enjoy sex more than ever. Others may lose interest altogether. Or they may feel uncomfortable with exposing their bodies as they see their physical beauty wane. Men are more likely afraid of performance failure. There is a reason why medications for erectile dysfunction rank among the bestselling drugs in the country. Chronic ailments and side effects from medicines can also affect sexual prowess in both genders.
There has been much talk about the rise of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among the elderly in recent years, although some statistics have been exaggerated. What seems the case, however, is that the concept of practicing safe sex has not been completely accepted by older males. A reason may be that the older generations have come of age before the HIV epidemic and that the use of condoms was not believed to be as imperative as it is today. Also, open conversation about sex and sexual health is not as common among seniors as it should be, despite of all the other attitudinal changes. Perhaps revolutions go only so far.