Older adults say that engaging in sexual behavior is an important aspect of human relationships through­out adulthood (AARP, 1999a; Jacoby, 2005). Healthy adults at any age are capable of having and enjoying sexual relationships. Moreover, the desire to do so normally does not diminish. Unfortunately, one of the myths in our society is that older adults cannot and should not be sexual. Many young adults find it dif­ficult to think about their grandparents in this way.

Such stereotyping has important consequences. What do you think to yourself when we see an older couple being publicly affectionate? Can you envision your grandparents enjoying an active sex life? Many people feel that such behavior is cute. But observers tend not to refer to their own or their peers’ relationships in this way. Many nurs­ing homes and other institutions actively dissuade their residents from having sexual relationships and may even refuse to allow married couples to share the same room. Adult children may believe their widowed parent does not have the right to establish a new sexual relationship. The message we are send­ing is that sexual activity is fine for the young but not for the old. The major reason why older women do not engage in sexual relations is the lack of a socially sanctioned partner. It is not that they have
lost interest; rather, they believe they are simply not permitted to express their sexuality any longer.

Concept Check

1. What physical symptoms accompany age-related changes in women’s reproductive system?

2. What are the major changes in men’s reproductive system?

3. How does sexual activity change with age?