The topic of romance and seniors is not only sensitive, but something that, frankly, can make some people uncomfortable. Traditionally, a senior’s love life is not discussed, let alone researched — as author Betty Friedan’s acclaimed book, “The Fountain of Age,” notes. “There is, in fact, very little data on the sexual interests and experiences of older people,” Friedan says.
People want to believe that seniors are asexual beings, but seniors desire — even need — romantic relationships, just as we do. Thankfully, the baby boomer population is pushing the topic into the mass media, and trend analysts expect to see a further increase in personal services and products tailored to aging boomers and seniors.
While seniors desire love, they face many obstacles beyond the social norms and taboos.
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Biological, demographic and psychological factors can all make it challenging for seniors to form romantic relationships:
In her groundbreaking book, author Friedman explains that many of the difficulties that seniors face when approaching love are based on expectations that intimacy and love ought to be the same as it was during middle-age.
Instead, she explains, older people must define new modes of intimacy and sexuality that are not based on the conceptions that apply to younger adults:
“Before it’s too late… we can choose to tear down the walls that we have built up against intimacy, choose to take the risks of it, choose to create the experiences, reunions, that will keep it alive, over the distances of time and space. But space itself, and time too, must be created anew; we have to use it differently, move maybe to a different space, for the bonds of intimacy to continue to grow and nourish us in age.”
Senior living communities are one place where dating has blossomed. Men and women who had once resigned themselves to isolation have been able to rebuild intimacy with a new companion, in a new place, and in new ways.
For those seniors who have developed or maintained an active love life despite socials barriers and stigmas, we would be remiss not to mention an ever present danger: sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), which are on the rise among older people.
Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control show there has been a 45% increase in reported STDs in Americans over the age of 40 in the United States from 2000-2008. Many STDs go untreated in the senior population because they’re hard to detect and unexpected.
An elderly parent with an active love life can raise concerns and test the patience of grown children.
We might fear that Dad’s girlfriend has ulterior motives, or wonder about the man who has paired up with Mom while she has dementia. When our parent’s competence has been compromised because of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, these concerns are legitimate and it may be appropriate to intervene. But otherwise:
Older people deserve just as much autonomy in their lives as any other adults — the opportunity to learn, live and love.
Has an aging family member found love in senior living? What experiences have you had with seniors and dating? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.