Come again? Older adults benefit from talking about sex with friends

Sex. It’s not a topic of conversation for older adults, or is it? We’ve all heard of the stereotype that once you get older than age 60 you’re not interested in sex. If we believe that, we’re wrong.

As part of research into the sexual lives and sexual attitudes of older Australians, we explored whether or not older adults talked about sex with their friends. We interviewed women and men aged 58 and older, the majority of whom were sexually active.

Our findings told us that not everyone talked about sex with friends. But for those who did, they felt it played an important role. This was because:

  • it provided support; for example during a time when relationship with a partner was strained
  • it was educational; for example learning about safer sexual practices
  • it enabled the sharing of news; for example the excitement of meeting a new sexual partner

Because sex is a private topic, trust and confidentiality had to be in place before sexual conversations were had. Discretion was important too, especially for those married or in a relationship due to the risk of sharing something that the partner wouldn’t want making public.

Stereotypes about older age made talking about sex ‘risky’ as participants felt open to scrutiny. They were aware of the stereotype of a sexless older age and how this could affect others’ judgement. This was especially so for single older women who had different sexual partners. It is also explained by gender stereotypes and the ‘double standard’ where women have to protect their reputation more than men. Indeed, when participants were younger, it was acceptable for men to be sexually active prior to marriage but not women.

Growing-up during a time when sex wasn’t openly talked about influenced willingness to talk about sex today. As younger people,  social messages about sex were influenced by Christianity and Catholicism, which firmly placed sex within marriage and for the purpose of reproduction more so than pleasure.

So, while sex will always be a difficult conversation (influenced by many different factors in our lives), it is wrong to assume that all older adults won’t talk about it. These participants recognised that their generation was less conservative about sex than their parents’ generation, but not as liberated as the generation of today. Who knows what the future holds for future generations of older adults.

Want to read the full article? Click the link on the title: Talking about sex with friends: perspectives of older adults from the Sex, Age & Me study in Australia, published in Culture, Health & Sexuality

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