Sex older people
This paper was prepared for SCWK 321, Section 01, taught by Professor Jonghyun Lee Late adulthood is considered to start at the age of 65 and continue through 85 until death. According to Erik Erikson’s 8 stage of psychosocial development, this is the final stage of an individual, the integrity vs. despair stage.
During this stage of maturity in late adulthood, they begin to reflect on their life lived; if they feel that they made a contribution to life and feel fulfilled, they accept themselves and accept death as a reality. Erik Erikson “believed if we see our lives as unproductive, feel guilt about our pasts, or feel that we did not accomplish our life goals, we become dissatisfied with life and develop despair, often leading to depression and hopelessness” (McLeod 2008).
On the other hand if for some reason they are unable to become satisfy with their life, this will result in a feeling of a complete loss of hope thus they are unable to come to term with death. If the elderly successful complete this stage, they attain wisdom.
There is a misconception that older people should not or is not sexual, that as they grow older, they grow less interested in any sexual relation but sexual desire varied from one person to another. It is viewed as a taboo among families and media, inappropriate to be spoken about.
According to a study of 2,622 adults over 60 by Elias (1992) found that “81% of women were sexually active in their 60’s and 65% at the age of 70 and older; among man, 91% were still having sex in their 60’s and 79% after age 69”. Some factors that can contribute to the increase in the interest of sexual relation among older people can be that his/her partner has more time with each other than before, no preoccupation with birth control and/or no chances of bearing children or children interrupting their special moments.
Although sexual activity can last for a lifetime there are factors including “medications, illnesses, partner availability and relationship problems, more than age-related changes in sexual responsiveness…” (Nusbaum 18), which can hinder it and forces the older people to become celibate. The media including television, radio, internet, social media and advertisement, all play a huge role on giving us information, creating perceptions about ourselves and the world.
Rarely do we see elderly in movies, they are nonexistent but when we do, they are represented in a negative way. Youthfulness, beauty, physical strength, the Barbie doll shaped woman is what the media place an emphasis on.
Elderly are often portrayed in the media as immobile, old, cute, and unable to take care of themselves, depending on wheelchair and cane to move around, weak, blind, hard of hearing, unemployed, and living in nursing home, rude, not interested in sex and always sewing.
Thus why the younger generation develops a fear of growing old, they don’t want to live in a nursing home, dependent on others and have nurses changing their diaper as the media misrepresent the late adulthood to be. Two theoretical perspectives that can be integrated in among late adulthood are age stratification perspective and social construction theory. The age stratification theory tries to recognize and comprehend the differences between age group in a society.
In the stratification theory “similar to the way society is structured by socioeconomic class, it is also stratified by age” (Hutchison 365). Depending on our age group or cohort, older people are assigned their roles and individual’s right. The limitation to this theory is that it focuses solely on their age and it does not take into account social class, gender and the race of a person.
In social construction theory, through our daily interaction, we create meaning and experiences about the old age. Hutchison stated that social construction theory “aims to understand and explain the influence of social definitions, social interactions and social structures on the individual elderly person” (364).
Our environment, in which we live in, helps define who the old age are but these meaning can change depending where you might live. For example in United States, a person in their late adulthood might be viewed as an invalid, burden or useless whereas this same person can be defined as a person of wisdom and strength in Africa.
Life expectancy are soaring , thanks to the decrease in mortality of children and young adults, the decrease of mortality among the aging particularly because of the accessibility to improved health technology but it is expected for our body to decay overtime. This is a natural ongoing process that cannot be stopped by any technology or gimmicks.
As our body age, it become harder for our cells to reproduce as often as before and it has less ability to create antioxidants thus it takes longer for the body to heal if break a bone or cut our finger. It is harder also to recover from a cold or infection because the body loses some of its ability to recognize foreign bacteria, viruses and etc. and it will start to attack some of it healthy cells.
Our system begins to slow down and response slower, our blood begins to be pumped less, there is a decrease in the functioning of our respiratory system, vision decreases and so do our hearing ability. Our bones become weak, arthritis becomes common due to less cartilage in-between the joints, our sensory system weakens which causes elder to often lose their balance, falling and fracturing their bones.
Potency among the late adulthood may decline but sexual desire and the capacity to perform it continues. As men grow older, they tend to produce less testosterone, thus prolonging their ability to erect and lead them to have less sexual desire.
On the other hand for women, their sexual interests are heightened due to the fact that there is a decrease in the predication of estrogen which is followed by menopause. Due to the attitudes and behaviors of families’ members and staff, surrounding the expectation of the older generation, many elders are hushed about their sexual behaviors.
Sometimes even doctor who are not properly trained to work specifically with this population, may turn away concerns, sees the topic as inappropriate for their age or are uncomfortable with the older people talking about sexual activities. In nursing home and/or assisted living facilities, there has been an issue about the privacy of a couple in their room.
Also there has been a concern surrounding sexual activity among individual who has been diagnose with dementia and their inabilities to consent to sexual activity. Elders of the minorities’ false diagnosis of dementia are due to the factors of language barriers, limited availability to information, miscommunication and the low or no education among them.
According to a study by Dilworth and Hilliard (2012) “African American families are less likely than whites to institutionalize elders with dementia and more likely to normalize dementing behaviors” (31). Social Workers can have a better understanding and be able to meet the needs of this issue and the population that it affects by not assuming anything about a person’s sexual practices, preferences and/orientation.
By evaluating personal attitudes, feeling and values regarding sexuality, being cultural competence and demonstrating sensitivity to the clients values beliefs, we can better assess the sexual activity among older people.
It is essential that as social worker, to remain nonjudgmental and explore options and services available for encouraging healthy sexual activities. Refrain from treating older adult as if they are a child, incapable of making independent decisions even if they cannot do so, empower rather than discourage.
Dilworth-Anderson, P., Pierre, G. & Hilliard,T.S. (2012). Social justice, health disparities, and culture in the care of the elderly. Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, 40(1), 26 -32 Elias, M. (1992). Late-Life Love (Cover Story). Harvard Health Letter, 18 (1) 1. Hutchison, E.D. (2011). A life course perspective. In Dimensions of Human Behavior:
The changing life course. (4th ed.) Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE. Nusbaum,M.H., Lenaham,P., & Sadovsky,R. (2005). Sexual health in aging men and woman Addressing the physiologic and psychological sexual changes that occur with age. Geriatrics,60(9), 18-23. McLeod, S. A. (2008). Erik Erikson | Psychosocial Stages. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/Erik-Erikson.html