Older Adults: “The Sex Conversation”

 

Sometimes it can be difficult to talk about sex, but it is critical that we are able to discuss it openly in order to improve quality of life and health outcomes for older adults.  Studies have shown that many healthcare providers assume their older adult patients are no longer having sex, therefore, not putting themselves at risk for contracting HIV or other STIs. Older adults are usually not perceived to be at risk for HIV or other STIs by their providers and often may not perceive themselves to be at risk. These assumptions create an environment which make it difficult to have open and honest discussion around the challenges and concerns older adults may be having around developing and/or maintaining a healthy sex life.

LGBT Aging & Sexual Health

Older adults are often assumed to be heterosexual and cisgender, but we must remember that many of our seniors identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) as well. In order to be inclusive and responsive to the needs of all the seniors we serve, we need to be sure to create an environment that is welcoming to all, including LGBT older adults.

 

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It is also important to train staff interacting with seniors to use LGBT-friendly language and to include physical symbols in your center like a “welcome triangle” indicating a safe space to have open and honest discussions around sex and sexual health.

The Conversation:

Help the Older Adult feel comfortable

  • Do not be afraid or visibly uncomfortable
  • Help them “break the ice.”
  • Offer permission to express feelings or needs

Be open-minded and concerned

  • Do not assume there are no concerns
  • Ask direct questions about activity and attitudes
  • Answer honestly
  • Do not evade sexual concerns

Be respectful and non-judgmental

  • See them as individuals with sexual needs

Avoid Stereotypes about Older Adults

  • Inflexible
  • Intolerant
  • Non-productive
  • Second childhood in need of parenting
  • Myth of serenity – all old people are nice
  • Lonely & depressed
  • Cheap or greedy
  • Senile/dementia
  • Deaf, poor vision, etc.
  • Frail

Tips for Working With  Older Adults:

  • Working with seniors must take into consideration the vast life experiences they have had
  • Start the discussion in a small group
  • Frame the discussion as a conversation, with the seniors having as much to share as you do
  • Speak their language (Use culturally and generationally appropriate language)
  • Do not be crass or use colloquial terms
  • Have fun
  • Be creative
  • Show that you are comfortable with the information and not embarrassed
  • Be an expert, not a ‘know it all’
  • A little respect goes a long way