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IBX Insights

Sexuality Among Seniors

A senior couple dancing in their living room

A work colleague recently sent me a copy of a New York Times Magazine article entitled “The Joys (and Challenges) of Sex after 70.” Because she and I belong to a group that is focused on seniors and their health, it’s not surprising she would pass this information along. Then she recommended that I write a blog about it.

I hesitated. I wasn’t exactly sure how our readership would respond to that kind of article. But in the end, I’m a doctor, a geriatrician, and someone who understands that sex is a normal part of life. I realized I had an opportunity and a responsibility to address this topic, which unfortunately is more controversial than it ought to be.

Yes, Seniors Still Can and Do Have Sex

In our youth-oriented culture, seniors are widely seen as asexual beings. If we no longer meet society’s ideals of physical beauty, it’s assumed that we couldn’t possibly have sexual feelings or find each other attractive. That we’re too physically frail. And so on.

But according to 2018 findings from the National Poll on Healthy Aging, 39 percent of adults 65 – 80 years old reported being sexually active. Self-reporting of sexual activity was more common among men, among those who were in better health, and among those who had a romantic partner. And 95 percent of those who were sexually active said they believe sex is an important part of a romantic relationship.

There’s also evidence that being sexually active in your later years is beneficial to your health. So if you’re one of these seniors who is having a fulfilling sex life, good for you! Literally.

If You’re Not Sexually Active…

If you’re not sexually active, that may be just fine with you. It’s really okay to not have sex.

But if you wish there was more romance, physical intimacy, and/or sex in your life, that could be causing you some sadness. Maybe even frustration and anger. Let’s talk about a few things that could be getting in the way — and what you can do about them.

You’re Interested, But Your Partner Isn’t (Or Vice Versa)

Successful relationships are about compromise. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Try to meet each other halfway. If necessary, seek relationship counseling, or meet with a certified sex therapist.

Sometimes a health condition or physical limitation can get in the way of sexual activity (or can seem to be getting in the way). Rather than giving up, consider that there may be a solution — whether it’s a change in medications, a change in how you define “sexual activity,” or engaging in some other form of physical intimacy (such as cuddling). And again, consider getting some professional help if you’re not able to work things out on your own.

You’re Interested, But You Don’t Have a Partner

Not everyone is in a relationship. Some people don’t wish to be, and others could be single due to various circumstances.

If you wish you had a special someone, you may believe that at your age it’s too late. But don’t give up so easily. These days there are a lot of ways to meet like-minded people.

But also remember that, when it comes to being sexually fulfilled, it doesn’t necessarily take two to tango. If you find this suggestion shocking, I apologize. But just as there’s nothing shameful about being sexually active as a senior, there’s nothing shameful about being sexually active by yourself.

When in Doubt, Talk to Your Doctor

You should talk to your doctor if you have any questions about:

  • Whether you’re physically fit enough to have sex
  • Whether there’s anything you need to be careful about (such as sexually transmitted diseases, which are a much larger problem for people over 60 than most people realize)
  • Any health challenges that may be affecting your sex life

Don’t be afraid to talk to a mental/behavioral health practitioner either.

Independence Blue Cross members can use our Provider Finder tool to locate the right practitioner for their specific needs.

I’d like to close with the sage words of Dr. Ruth Westheimer — a champion for sex positivity at any age, if ever there was one! In 2019, the McGill Reporter interviewed her about sex after 50, and predictably she had a lot of terrific things to say.

But my favorite line from that article is, “People should not give up on sex.” I agree, and I firmly believe that where there’s a will, there’s almost always a way.

Dr. Heidi J. Syropoulos

I joined Independence Blue Cross in 2015 after practicing Geriatrics for nearly 30 years. In my current role I function as the medical liaison to our Government Markets team, serving as a subject matter expert on clinical medicine and healthcare delivery. What I love about my position is the opportunity to help an entire population of people through the benefits of their health plan.