More Seniors Seek “Friends with Benefits.”
Dr. Daniel Sewell, clinical professor and Medical Director at the Senior Behavioral Health at UCSD, first took an interest in researching sex in older adults when a nursing facility called him for advice.
“A man and woman living at the nursing facility had fallen and love and began a physical relationship,” he explained, “and the woman had a husband living elsewhere.”
The question about what to do sparked a research project and a lecture that now is in high demand.
“I talk on a variety of topics, but when I’m requested as a speaker [the topic of age, sex and dementia] is what people request.”
“Sleep is important, appetite is important and sex is important. Getting older or getting dementia doesn’t necessarily change that,” Dr. Sewell pointed out.
He said there are 5 primary drives of human behavior, thirst, hunger, pain avoidance, attachment, and libido or sex drive. He said the last drive is one that is talked about the least when it comes to older adults.
However, there are a couple of studies he cited. He had to chuckle when telling the crowd that one study considered older to be age 50 and upward. It found that 20 to 30 percent of men and women are sexually active into their 80’s.
The biggest determinants of whether an “older” person will be sexually active is their relationship status and health.
“If you have a partner, you’re more likely to have sex, and if you are healthy, you’re more likely to have sex,” he said.
A newer phenomenon, he explained, was the fact that one out of 5 men is having sexual contact with a “friend” or “new acquaintance”, the “friends with benefits” as it’s called in media.
The percentage of women doing the same is less, but still significant, at 13.5%. He suspected that this more casual approach to sex has to do with the fact that older adults don’t want to complicate their lives with second or third marriages, so they’re open to the idea of sex with a less rigid relationship structure.
The drawback is that this behavior puts older adults at risk for sexually transmitted diseases if they don’t practice safe sex. Older adults may think that because birth control is not needed, protection is also not needed.
Another interesting fact is that 14% of men report using some kind of supplement to improve their sex life.
A 2007 study also found that adults age 57 to 64 had a 73 % prevalence of sexual activity, for those 65 to 74 it’s 53%, and 75 to 85-year-olds had a 26% prevalence of sexual activity.
Dr. Sewell pointed out that older adults are rarely asked about sexual issues by their doctors or case managers. It’s a topic that tends to make people uncomfortable or blush, but he said that thinking needs to change since sex not only indicates good health but it also improves health.
He suggested health practitioners should first build a rapport with the patient and then should ask a simple open ended question such as, “Have you experienced any changes in your sexual life?”
Finally, he gave 8 tips for enhancing and maintaining a positive sex life, no matter the age.
- 1.) Eat a heart healthy diet
- 2.) Get adequate rest
- 3.) Maintain good dental care
- 4.) Take care of your skin
- 5.) Avoid tobacco products
- 6.) Minimize Alcohol intake
- 7.) Exercise regularly
- 8.) Correct hearing loss
Those in attendance found his presentation of sex education for older adults insightful, humorous and very much needed.
“In all my years of caring for patients, I’ve never had this topic discussed,” one social worker commented. She plans to incorporate questions about sex into the list of topics she addresses when conducting patient assessments.
At Home Care Solution is a certified leading provider of non-medical, in home care and is a provider of monthly continuing education seminars for nurses, social workers and nursing home administrators. Call At Home Care Solution at 760-634-8000 or go online to www.thecaresolution.com.
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