SECOND OPINION

Sex and the senior: They're doing it, so get over it

A British researcher says stereotypes persist when it comes to seniors having sex, and that’s affecting their health and well-being.

Researcher aims to raise awareness of the 'sexual rights of older adults'

'Till the end of our days,' by Pete McKee. The artist has created works for a new exhibition in Sheffield, England, called The Age of Love, about relationships and intimacy in older adults. (petemckee.com)

This is an excerpt from Second Opinion, a weekly roundup of eclectic and under-the-radar health and medical science news emailed to subscribers every Saturday morning.

If you haven't subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here


Older adults are having sex and enjoying it. So get over it.

A British researcher says the "ick factor" and other stereotypes associated with seniors and sex persists, and that's affecting their health and well-being.

"We know that many older adults enjoy sex and intimacy," said Sharron Hinchliff, of the University of Sheffield's School of Nursing and Midwifery. "However, our global research has found that they often face barriers when it comes to talking about this with partners, friends and health care professionals."

Hinchliff, who has been studying senior sex for nearly two decades, says it's important to raise awareness of "the sexual rights of older adults."

Hinchliff said some doctors may be "ageist" and judgmental toward older people seeking advice on all matters sexual. Her research found older patients feel they may be "brushed off" by their GP, or given advice like "That's not really my area" or "You need to go see a counsellor."

Sex matters

That kind of attitude prevents older adults from receiving the proper advice and help they might need to address sexual concerns, Hinchliff found.

"One of the GP's we interviewed, he did actually say that he doesn't talk to his older clients about sexual matters because it would be like talking to his mum and dad. So that's the ick factor," Hinchliff said over the phone from Sheffield.

Awkward as the idea may be to younger people, sex does matter to people 65 and older. "They report benefits such as feeling more connected as a couple, feeling a greater sense of well-being. If your sex life is going well, then you are generally going to feel happier about that," said Hinchliff.

On the flipside, if there are problems in the bedroom, it could spell trouble for the relationship: Hinchliff says people can experience feelings of frustration, depression and tension, and have more arguments with their partner.

'Get people talking'

Hinchliff has been researching stereotypes surrounding older people's sex lives for 17 years and believes the subject matter has been woefully neglected.

To challenge the taboos, she sought the help of a local artist, who produced a series of artworks of older adults in relationships. The exhibition is now on display in Sheffield. The pieces are fun and downright cheeky.

One of Pete McKee's illustrations for The Age of Love exhibit. (Pete McKee)

"I've just been there with my mum and my partner's mum," said Hinchliff. "They're both in their 70s and they were laughing out loud at the images."

The artist, Pete McKee, said he was "delighted" to be asked to take part in the project. "Hopefully the work we have created will get people talking more — and maybe with a sense of humour about it, too."

Hinchliff agrees. "I think when you're dealing with a topic that is private and that many people find is embarrassing, then if you put the humour there, then it makes it a little bit easier to think about and actually it helps to start a conversation."

To read the entire Second Opinion newsletter every Saturday morning, please subscribe

About the Author

Kas Roussy

Senior Reporter

Kas Roussy is a senior reporter with the Health unit at CBC News. In her more than 30 years with CBC, Kas’s reporting has taken her around the globe to cover news in countries including Pakistan and Afghanistan, Chile, Haiti and China, where she was the bureau producer.