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The sexuality of the elderly: the big taboo

The least we can say is that we need kindness toward those who seek after 60 years. As if their sexuality (re) became a vice. As if gardening logically replaced libertinage and as if we had only the option of silence or mockery: failing members, hilarious!

Exciting hypocrisy, when we celebrate these super-seniors capable of chaining four marathons while passing a doctorate of astrophysics by correspondence on their smartphone. How do we come to congratulate ourselves on growing older and later, physically, intellectually, emotionally but not sexually?

The representations are hard-skinned, the figures are clear: our elders enjoy life, not just by preparing apple pies. In 2018, the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that in America 54% of men and 31% of women over 70 still had sexual activity (knowing that men die younger, leaving their wives alone in the abstinence dilemma or planting of cucumbers).

Interest in the thing

A few years earlier, another study shed more light on this decline: three-quarters of 57-65-year-olds were sexually active, but 53% of 65-75-year-olds and 26% of 75-85-year-olds. And be careful, we do not talk about exceptional reports! Active men over 75 years of age still knew two to three knapsacks a week. A frequency that many young people would envy!

On the side of satisfaction, let’s put away our misery. According to American University, 20% of over 65s have more fulfilling sexuality than ever before.

The recipe for the longevity of pleasure will surprise no one: an excellent partner, a regular activity, interest in the thing, a healthy lifestyle. This last point is crucial. People in poor health are, by far, the ones who suffer the most from a sexual decline (an example among others: 81% of the patients are sorry for lessened orgasms, but only 54% of the healthy ones).

This longevity of libidos also concerns singles or widowers. According to the University Center for Sexual Health Promotion, 46% of men over 70 years of age masturbate, and 33% of women. 62% of them find that their senior sexuality is as satisfying as or even more satisfying than the sexuality of their 40s.

The eyes of others and oneself on one’s body

No angels for sure, of course. Excitement and enjoyment are longer to manifest themselves. There are also potential health problems such as fatigue, heart risks, dementia or pain. It is four times more common to have erectile dysfunction at age 60 than at age 40 (14% of over-75s use a specific medication). The ejaculatory volume is reduced. As for women, menopause causes vaginal dryness and often a decline in libido but without a fatality.

The worst enemies of long-term sexuality are not the physical limitations, but the eyes of others and oneself on one’s body. Beyond this question of esteem (which also affects young people), it helps to maintain his libido by moving, giving up the obsession with performance, but also by controlling his medication (if you see a drop in desire, talk to your doctor – no need to add sexual problems to health problems).

The game is worth the candle since sexuality, including in institutions, promotes social relations, satisfies emotional and physical needs, and reconnects with intimacy (our grandparents are multitasking, they can pamper their garden AND their secret garden).

Where has our benevolence, our tolerance has gone?

All this is great, but exposes us to a paradox: if the sexuality of the elderly exists, is satisfactory and accompanies good ageing, why do we refuse to talk about it? Our bad jokes, our invisibilisation of the stakes, our declared aggression, are all bullets shot in our future foot. Where has our benevolence, our tolerance has gone?

A first explanation is to blame the Judeo-Christian tradition, so to speak, a contemporary creampie for any reflection on the body. Because postmenopausal sexuality escapes reproduction, it becomes doubtful, according to the famous rule that social activity can never be practised for pleasure – food, of course, but to feed, the walk, indeed, but to talk.

The taboo of incest will be attached to it: when one substitutes in everyday language “a grandfather” with “a sexagenarian”, not only does one reduce the person to his generational function, but one makes of all old person our ancestor (c is nice, but then you have to bring them a roast chicken on Sunday). Nobody wants to know how his parents sleep: by rebound, how his grandparents sleep.

Second explanation: we persist in systematically associating youth and desirability. This logic is boring, deeply ingrained, but not insurmountable (a culture is transformed – culture is us).

Sexuality, a disorder of youth

We are attached to an esoteric and idealised idea of ageing, which would make retirement a notion applicable to all fields. Older people are expected to renounce earthly pleasures through wisdom that magically places them beyond the reach of strong emotions. But if we push this last explanation in its entrenchments, it is possible that our aggressiveness towards the sexuality of seniors paradoxically reveals our aspiration to abstinence.

As per expert explanation, if we want to believe that elders do not sleep, it is because we would like to be free from sex because if the old are wise and they give up sexuality, it is good that we consider the latter as irrational – a disorder of youth.

Unable to control our desires, titillated continuously, harassed by sexual ubiquity, we hope that our impulses will disappear on their own. When we deny the elderly the right to lust, it is our future serenity that we awkwardly attempt to insure. On the backs of others and we are the wrong to target.

If sexuality oppresses us as long as we have to get rid of it, if our appearance worries us so much that we do not intend to remain desirable after 22 years, it is in the present that the problem exists – not in the future. And if we were wise, we would recognise in our discourse on the sexuality of seniors nothing less than our current insecurities: to settle now, not in thirty years.