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Common Issues, Aging and Mental Health (courtesy of The Center for Aging and Life Change)

Psychosocial and cultural forces influence sexual attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. In contemporary American society sexuality remains, to some extent, a taboo topic. This lack of discussion has led to misconceptions and misinformation regarding sexuality in middle and advanced age. A common misconception is that sexual activity ceases with the loss of youth. Current studies confirm that sexuality is an aspect of human biology that can continue to be a source of pleasure, or a problem area throughout life.

There are infinite scenarios reflecting individual differences in sexual behavior. For some sexual activity is a source of pleasure, physical expression and intimacy, — for others it was never important; and for others sexual desire and behavior caused difficulties for themselves, and sometimes for others and continues to be a source of concern.

Research efforts, including findings from a recently published MacArthur Foundation funded longitudinal study reported that sexual interest and ability does tend to decline at about age 50, however, many of those surveyed remain active and continue to enjoy their sexuality well into advanced age. Decline in activity or interest was attributed to several factors. Though chronic diseases, medications and general health status could effect both men and women, they were noted as significant factors for men in several studies including the notorious Kinsey report of the 1950's. Interestingly enough, the availability, or lack thereof, of a suitable partner was frequently listed as a major factor for women.

Sexual choice is a private matter for independent adults, however, for those who become disabled, or the small percentage of people who move into some sort of institutional setting, such as a nursing home, privacy is sometimes compromised. Resident, staff and family members can find themselves in difficult and sometimes embarrassing situations for any one of a million reasons. Clear, assertive communication is the best way to proceed — challenging as that may seem, and often the assistance of a counselor with experience in these areas can be very helpful.

Fortunately, there are numerous resources available including a chat with the primary care physician, a visit with a counselor, or reading up on the topic. Organizations such as the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), 130 W. 42nd St., Suite 2500, New York, N.Y. 10036-7901, (212) 8199770 can provide useful information. The recent updated edition of Ourselves, Growing Older: Women Aging with Knowledge and Power by Paula B. Doress-Worters and Diana Laskin Siegal is an excellent resource and provides a lengthy bibliography on the topic.


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Emily Petersen
InnovAge P.A.C.E. of Northern Colorado
1303 E. 11th Street
Loveland, CO 80537

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