Aging Our Way

Lessons for living, from age 85 and beyond

Continuity Across a Life: Sexuality

Sexuality in elders is a normal part of life, but often ignored.

Yes I said it. Sexual elder. What’s the big deal?

Why do we judge elders who are sexual beings, when we know that continuity across the life course can be a lifeline? 

Talking with the producers of an upcoming public television series on aging, I got the distinct sense that aging and sexuality wouldn’t be a topic of focus for their five-part program. And yet, they agreed that this topic was real, and important. And often forgotten. They pointed out that once an audience can get over the discomfort/controversy, they may begin to appreciate intimacy at any age.

I told them about the book editor who said I was “taking a risk” opening my book with Lillian’s story. (Lillian was a romantic, and she swore that sexuality was central to her quality of life at any age.) And then Glenn jumped in and told them about how his cleaning lady was “casting aspersions on his manhood” so he found a slip at a thrift shop and put it out on his rumpled bed next to his pajamas. After finishing his story (so well told!) Glenn offered to loan them a three-part book series he enjoyed, called Fifty Shades of Gray.

Everyone laughed, but there was discomfort too. Think of the stereotypes. Dirty old man. Cute little old lady. (See my post on Betty White taking on the latter stereotype.) Take age out of the equation and you get an everyday person who isn’t harming anyone, who deserves our respect. 

This week, Paula Span of New York times, tells us how hard it can be for those in assisted living, to gain some semblance of privacy.

Glenn and Lillian are living in their homes, mostly independently. But not so for their peers in assisted living. I cannot forget Joseph and Myra, a married couple living in a nursing home, who had to go to the chapel to hold hands.

 

Copyright Meika Loe
Meika Loe is Associate Professor of Sociology and Women's Studies at Colgate University. She is the author of Aging Our Way: Lessons for Living from 85 and Beyond.

Meika Loe, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Sociology and Women's Studies at Colgate University.

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