Many people seem to believe that libido inevitably fades with age, and that elderly folk who are still interested in sex are abnormal. This idea is largely mythical. In actuality, sexual desire depends more on a state of mind and emotional attitudes than on one’s chronological age. Generally speaking, it’s normal to have an ongoing interest in sex throughout one’s adult life. Like the young, older people experience the full range of human feelings and emotions. They, too, need love and affection – sometimes in large amounts.
Researchers have shown that normal interest in and capacity for sex continues into the eighties. It may in some cases decrease in intensity because of specific problems with self-image, such as a feeling that one is no longer attractive, but this is not always true. It can also be affected, of course, by illness, aches and pains, complications of surgical procedures or certain other physical problems that accompany the aging process.
Older couples should bear in mind that sexual intimacy in marriage is a lifelong process. Different forms of expression may be appropriate at different phases in the development of the relationship – in youth and old age, in times of stress and times of joy, during pregnancy, childbirth and child-rearing, during and after menopause – the list could go on and on.
Where pain or physical incapacity has limited certain types of sexual activity, it’s worth remembering that sexual intercourse per se is not necessarily the only option for physical intimacy. Touch, physical closeness, skin-to-skin contact, even intimate conversation can be extremely satisfying in the absence of other forms of sexual pleasure. At every stage of life, healthy attitudes toward marital sex should be characterized by candor, prayerfulness, vulnerability, flexibility, and willingness to communicate.
The longevity of sexual interest can sometimes mean that older unmarried or widowed persons may find themselves facing a severe struggle to control their desires. This can be a very difficult situation, and we do not claim to have any easy solutions for those who are grappling with it. We do know that God’s personal care for us extends even into this area of our experience, and that He can help us to live satisfying lives in spite of unfulfilled desires – as many single adults, both young and old, can testify.
If you would like to discuss these matters at greater length, feel free to call Focus on the Family’s Counseling department.
Sexual Changes Accompanying Menopause: Debra Taylor discusses women’s sexual changes that accompany aging, and she offers married couples hope for maintaining sexual intimacy in every life stage.
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Sex and Intimacy