Researchers Find Increased Sexual Risks In Adults Over 45

The negative elements that affect sexual well-being in older adults.

Posted Nov 24, 2020

Negative consequences, stemming from sexual activity, due to stigma, socioeconomic disadvantages, and lack of sexual resources, are not limited to the younger set. Researchers for the SHIFT Project have found an increase in sexually transmitted infections in adults over the age of 45. According to Ian Tyndall, a senior lecturer at the University of Chichester, “Over-45s at most risk are generally those entering new relationships after a period of monogamy, often post-menopause, when pregnancy is no longer a consideration, but give little thought to STIs.”

Eighty percent of the 800 participants in the project’s study consisted of people between the ages of 45 and 65. While it may seem counterintuitive to think that older adults would not be aware of sexual risks, this is simply not the case. There are several variables that expose adults, especially older adults, to negative sexual consequences.

Vlada Karpovich/Pexels
Source: Vlada Karpovich/Pexels

1. Adverse perceptions of older adults having sex: There is a socialization process involved in how younger age groups view middle-aged to older adults as sexual beings and how older adults view themselves. As adults age, there is a perception that their interest in and desire for sex should fade. If young people are socialized to think there is a cut-off point in which adults become disinterested in sex, they may carry that belief into their own aging years, and that belief may be enough to override sexual impulses or cause them to forego sexual relations in a perceived adherence to social normativity. Dynamics of this socialization process may prevent older adults from leading complete sexual lives and may diminish their sexual well-being.

Furthermore, there is evidence that the sexual health of older adults is factored out as a subject by some healthcare professionals (Hinchliff and Gott 2011, Traeen and Schaller 2013) related to these sexual perceptions. Based on data collected from the survey they conducted, SHIFT is developing intervention guidelines they intend to deliver to healthcare professionals within the next year.

2. Stigmatization: It’s one thing to perceive that older adults are no longer interested in having sex, and quite another thing to actively stigmatize them for sexual desires and behaviors. One may not wish to think that their parents or grandparents are sexually active, but condemnation of their sexual livelihood is an inappropriate response. To view sexuality in advanced years as a discrediting attribute only serves to shame the individual and push them into hiding their sexuality, which prevents them from openly communicating and seeking information or medical attention.

3. Self-Shaming: Direct stigmatization is not the only avenue for hiding one’s sexuality. If an individual recognizes that their identification as a sexual being in older years is a discrediting identity, they may self-shame and retreat from a sexually fulfilling life or, if they continue to be sexually active, they may do so while producing guilt about who they have chosen to be and how they act. Again, with self-shaming, as with stigmatization, this may prevent an individual from communicating, seeking sexual information, or necessary medical attention.

4. Lack of education: If older adults are not seeking sexual knowledge, they open themselves up to any number of risks associated with sexual activity. As previously noted by Tyndall, for adults who are either post-menopausal, or have partners who are post-menopausal, the concern of pregnancy may fall away, but not the risk of STIs. Lack of information, or general misinformation, regarding the spread of STIs, causes some to believe that only young people get STIs or that new partners, after a period of monogamy, couldn’t possibly have an STI. Falsehoods like these serve to spread the infection of STIs.

5. Socioeconomic disadvantages: The SHIFT study found that 58% of participants falling into socioeconomically disadvantaged categories were between the ages of 45 and 54. Such groups may not believe, or are unaware, that they have medical resources available to them. Most often, these disadvantaged groups do not get tested for STIs. Invaluable information regarding their health and well-being does not get to them if they are not seeking the services of health professionals. In this case, ignorance of their health condition follows them into their sexual relationships. Furthermore, if older adults are stigmatized for having sex lives or are concerned about being judged for being sexual, they are going to be less likely to bring up sexual health issues with their doctor or with potential sexual partners.

If members of society are unwilling to talk about middle-aged to older adults having sex or if older adults believe that they shouldn’t be talking about or engaging in sex, negative consequences are certain to affect their sexual well-being. A longitudinal study by Lindau, Schumm, and Laumann (2007) reported that approximately three-quarters of people aged 57-64 were sexually active. Along with the fact that a majority of older adults engage in sexual activity, such studies as DeLamater and Koepsel (2015) note that coitus improves mental health and overall well-being in this age group.

Sexuality is a foundational aspect of many lives. Society needs to be aware of this fact and work towards changing sexual perceptions and normalizing sex lives in all consensual age groups, free of stigmatization and shame. Only then can older adults fully lead complete sex lives wherein their sexual well-being, both psychologically and physiologically, be ensured.

References

DeLamater, John and Erica Koepsel. 2015. “Relationships and sexual expression in later life: A biopsychosocial perspective” in Sexual Relationship Therapy, 30(1): 37–59

Hinchliff, Sharron and Merryn Gott. 2011. “Seeking Medical Help for Sexual Concerns in Mid- and Later Life” in Journal of Sex Research 48(1): 106-117.

Lindau, Stacy Tessler, Phillip L. Schumm, Edward O. Laumann, Wendy Levinson, Colm A. O’Muircheartaigh, and Linda J. Waite. 2007. “A Study of Sexuality and Health among Older Adults in the United States” in New England Journal of Medicine 357(8): 762–774.

Traeen, Bente and Sidsel Schaller. 2013. “Talking to patients about sexual issues” in Sexual and Relationship Therapy 28(3): 283-293.