When do we become old? Is it when we can no longer do many of the physical things we use to? Or is it when we reach a certain age that we feel we should change our behaviour to meet society’s expectations of older people? Or is it when we feel that we are no longer attractive? In a world which seems to be dominated by youth and physical beauty what happens when you are not realistically represented in popular media? For many older people this is their experience. Just because a man turns fifty it doesn’t mean they have lost sexual desire and the need to feel attractive.
Historically older men who sought out sexual relationships have been dismissed as foolish or ridiculed for attempting to engage in a sexual activity which was ‘beyond their physical years’. The perception has prevailed that older men and women live the last twenty to thirty years of their life in a state of asexuality.
Although this may be a perception held by society, research has shown that this is not the case. Approximately 70% of seventy year old men in relationships are still very sexually active.
Although the frequency of sexual activity may decline as men age there is still a strong desire to maintain an active sex life. Older men are more likely to remain sexually active longer than women. And many remain sexually active well into their eighties and nineties.
Read more in the book “Counseling in Relationships: Insights for Helping Families Develop Healthy Connections“
Older men tend to have slower erections that are not as full. Older men generally need more stimulation to maintain an erection. The stimulation needs to be both physical and mental. Younger men only need mental stimulation. Older men experience decreased force and volume of semen during orgasm and the orgasm is briefer and the refractory period is usually longer – up to 48 hours.
It’s rare for the sexual organ in older men to fail. The main causes for sexual dysfunction are through medical interventions such as surgery or medications. Some of the main medication that have side effects that may diminish both sexual performance capabilities and desire are; hypertension, depression, anxiety, cancer, the common cold, epilepsy, pneumonia, glaucoma, insomnia and schizophrenia.
If society portrays older men as invisible do they eventually lose their desire to be desirable? It’s easy to fall into a trap and believe that only young people have sexual desire because they are physically desirable. Popular media points to the physical desirability of youth through beauty products, exercise equipment and plastic surgery, and that ageing is to be avoided at any cost. The world is awash with highly sexualised images of young people. But how often do sexual images of older people appear in print, television media or online? Why is society so fearful of acknowledging that older men and women have a physicality and sexuality?
There are many biased views of older men and women – here are a few:
- Older adults are asexual or not interested in sexual relations.
- Older adults who demonstrate an interest in sex are abnormal.
- It is acceptable for older men to marry younger women but not for older women to marry younger men.
- Older men who engage in sexual relationships are considered virile yet lecherous. Older women who engage in sex are considered amoral or abnormal because it is assumed they lose interest in sex after menopause.
- Older persons should be segregated by gender in nursing homes to avoid problems for staff and criticism from family and community members.
Read more in the book “A Person-Centered Approach and the Rogerian Tradition: A Handbook“
In recent years pharmaceutical companies have recognised the buying power of the baby boomer dollar. We are now seeing regular ads for Viagra in the media. But the older man’s sexuality is being treated as a medical condition. Society is still not acknowledging older men have natural desire. Their sexuality is veiled behind the medical condition of penile dysfunction. Society is yet to acknowledge and accept the genuine desire for older men to have an open and healthy vigorous sex life. Are older men being forced into a closet that gay men took so many years to get out of?