Homosexual Relationships in Later Years
Although most of the challenges and rewards of aging are experienced by adults regardless of sexual orientation, gay men and lesbians experience some unique aspects. Some gay men and lesbians are better prepared for coping with the adjustments of aging than are many heterosexual men and women. Facing the adversities of belonging to a stigmatized group throughout their lives may help prepare them to deal with the losses that come with aging (Altman, 1999). Many have created a more extensive network of supportive friends than have most heterosexual individuals (Alonzo, 2003). Retirement centers oriented to gay men and lesbians have been developed (Lisotta, 2007), and New York City opened the nation’s first full-time senior center for sexual minorities (Tucker, 2012). As acceptance of homosexuality and gay and lesbian relationships continues to increase in the United States, stigma from antihomosexual attitudes will become a less stressful factor in the lives of older gay men and lesbians (Kuyper & Fokkema, 2011a; Jones, 2011). Further, as laws establishing same-sex marriage expand, more gay and lesbian couples will be able to experience an increased sense of security and recognition (Lannutti, 2011).
Overall, studies find that older gay men and lesbians match or exceed comparable groups in the general population on a measure of life satisfaction (Woolf, 2001). A study of gay men revealed a change over time toward fewer sexual partners, but frequency of sexual activity remained quite stable, and 75% were satisfied with their current sex lives. Most of these men reported that they socialized primarily with same-age peers. Socializing and partnering with same-age peers is likely an important aspect of life satisfaction for older gay men, because the sexual marketplace setting of bars and bathhouses, where youth and physical appearance define desirability, is often inhospitable to older gay men (Berger, 1996).
As a group, older lesbians have some advantages over older heterosexual women. Research shows that most older lesbians prefer women of similar age as partners (Daniluk,
1998). Therefore, an older lesbian is less likely to be widowed than is a heterosexual woman, because women tend to live longer than men. If her partner does die, she does not face the limited pool of potentially eligible male partners. Furthermore, women are less likely than men to base attraction on a physical ideal, so the double standard of aging is less of an issue for lesbians than for straight women (Berger, 1996).