By Brian O’Grady for Comfort Life, a division of Our Kids Media
How common is romance among seniors? According to the 2001 Canadian Sexual Health Survey, more than 92 per cent of respondents said sex is an important part of life – and responses from men and women were about the same.
The percentage declined with age, but at 65, a large majority said sex was still important. And a majority of those between 65 and 74 considered themselves sexually active. Perhaps these seniors know how good sexual activity is for their health.
Meet Art and Evelyn Roberts, for instance. At 90 and 83 years of age, respectively, the happy pair will soon celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary. They dated for six years before tying the knot, and today they live at Beechwood Place retirement residence in Mississauga, Ontario.
Art and Evelyn agree that marriage, companionship and romance become even more important as the years go by. “There’s nothing worse than being alone, especially when you get to our ages,” Evelyn says. “You need companionship.”
Unions like Art and Evelyn’s are increasingly common as seniors shake off the notion that love and age don’t mix.
“There are quite a few couples here at Beechwood and that’s great because they keep one another company,” Evelyn says.
Some senior romantics must contend with family complaints over their new relationships, but the Roberts enjoy great support from Evelyn’s two daughters and two granddaughters. “Art is very sweet, and sometimes I think my daughters and grandchildren like spending time with him even more than me,” says Evelyn jokingly.
Romance is one thing, but sex is another. Today’s seniors came of age in a conservative era, when sex for pleasure was widely thought of as a sin. That means many seniors aren’t comfortable discussing their sexuality with partners or with health professionals.
And while this discomfort is more understandable among older people, younger generations have a surprisingly negative attitude toward the love lives of their elders. Despite enjoying significant sexual liberty themselves, many younger Canadians look upon seniors’ sexual desire as either non-existent or unnatural.
Mary Cooley is the Nova Scotia representative to the National Advisory Council on Aging and the author of “Sex Over Sixty,” which appeared in the spring 2002 edition of the council’s quarterly bulletin.
“Human sexuality is part of life,” she says. “But when it comes to seniors, despite the fact that the 30- and 40-year-old age groups are wonderful people, I think they ignore us.”
“The subject of sex after 60 isn’t addressed by the mainstream. Today, we know that men in their 90s are still willing and able, but I’ve heard the snicker-snicker about relationships in nursing homes and I don’t think it should be snicker-snicker. Why should it be treated any differently than a younger romance?”
The same attention to detail that can help seniors maintain independence in other ways – large print books or single-level living, for example – is also given to helping seniors in the bedroom. Nicole Richmond is a registered occupational therapist with experience helping seniors maintain an independent love life. “You need to assess people’s entire health and well-being and part of that is considering their sexual sides,” she says. “I don’t know a number or an age where those things don’t matter anymore. Are you just supposed to turn those things off?”
Take a look at the benefits of affection:
• Sex burns fat and causes the brain to release endorphins, naturally occurring chemicals that act as painkillers and reduce anxiety.
• In men, sex seems to stimulate the release of growth hormones and testosterone, which strengthens bones and muscles.
• In both men and women, sex also seems to prompt the release of substances that bolster the immune system.
• Sexual activity relieves physical stress and reinforces positive emotions.
• Research suggests that sex about three times a week can slow aging and prevent wrinkles around the eyes.
“It’s not just sex. It’s also emotional and spiritual health.”
According to Richmond, some seniors’ care environments don’t deal with sexuality badly – they just don’t deal with it at all. “It’s not addressed. Many health professions discuss things like spirituality and sexuality in theory, but often in practice people shy away from it unless the clients identify it themselves,” she says. “Attitude is the bigger issue. More and more I hope to find ways to include methods of practice that are respectful and tactful but help seniors to address this issue if they want to.”
But an even more difficult barrier to romance in the golden years than social mores is gender differences. Among seniors aged 65 to 69, there are 93 men per 100 women. From age 85 onwards, this number drops to approximately 44 per 100. The result is that available senior men are a hot commodity.
“There’s a dearth of available gentlemen but the competition among our female residents is very ladylike,” says Pat Tooze, the administrator of Bayview Retirement Home in Belleville, Ontario. Tooze agrees that a relationship can add years to a person’s life. “Especially for our widowed gentlemen, finding someone else who cares and whom you can care about is very comforting,” she says. “And after many happy years of marriage, some men aren’t interested in playing the field. But occasionally we have an older widowed gentleman who’s thrilled to squire different ladies around.”
The chemistry among Tooze’s residents also adds to the atmosphere at Bayview. “Regardless of age, it’s always fun to see the ladies giving every new gentlemen the once-over.”
Whether they live alone or in some form of assisted living, couples like Art and Evelyn are dispelling the myth that old age is lonely. With the liberal baby boomers moving closer to senior citizenship every day, retirement communities may soon assume a whole new reputation for excitement and love in later years.
For more on senior sexuality and sexual love in your senior years, feel free to check out other articles on the Comfort Life website.
About the Author: Powering the most comprehensive directory of retirement communities in Canada, Comfort Life enables families to research and compare profiles to find the best choice for their loved ones, as well as comprehensive information and advice for all stages of retirement and care.