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SEXUAL HEALTH: How old is too old for intimacy?

Saturday January 19 2019

A number of studies on sexuality have shown that we remain sexually attractive even in old age.

A number of studies on sexuality have shown that we remain sexually attractive even in old age. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH 

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James is the oldest patient I have attended to in the Sexology clinic. He is 80 years old. The retired teacher has been married to Sarah for 56 years. Sarah is aged 72. She is a retired civil servant having served as a secretary in various government offices. The couple’s youngest child is 40 years old.

“I am here because I am having trouble with a girlfriend I got recently,” James explained when he came to the Sexology clinic, “she gets pain during penetration and she is starting to avoid intimacy.”

“Did you mean your wife has pain during sex?” I asked not sure that at his age James would have a new girlfriend. He frowned and shook his head vigorously.

“My wife is moribund, deadwood, and she does not allow me to touch her. I have not had sex with her for the last 10 years.”

I nodded as I encouraged James to explain further. Incidentally, James had remained sexually active into his old age. Sarah, on the other hand, had thrown in the towel. According to James, Sarah did not have a medical condition that warranted avoiding sex. She simply did not want it and did not allow any discussion in that line. This annoyed James and he resorted to extra-marital sex. In the past 10 years, he has had five different sex mates. His new catch is 50 years old. She is a widow having lost her husband in a road accident.

“So would you have sex with your wife and be faithful to her if she was agreeable to it?” I asked, well aware of the dangers James was exposing himself to by having one sex partner after another. He nodded thoughtfully, reclined on his seat and stared at the horizon. He removed his thick-lensed spectacles and wiped his eyes, which were already welling up with tears. “I still do not understand why my wife of so many years would reject me in bed and subject me to this kind of life!” He exclaimed. It dawned on me that James was feeling rejected. I immediately took to explaining popular but false beliefs about sex in old age.



You see, there is a myth that at a certain age people are not sexually attractive. As such, many people avoid anything that can lead them to having sex. This may include pushing your spouse away. It may also include losing interest in dressing well and personal hygiene. In fact, some people lose a sense of self-worth as they stop anything sexual “because of age”.

A number of studies on sexuality have, however, shown that we remain sexually attractive even in old age. You therefore need to continue working on looking good and appealing sexually. You should be happy that you continue to look attractive to your spouse irrespective of your age. Never turn away your spouse’s sexual advances simply because you feel you are old!

There is also a myth that when one hits a certain age, they should stop sexual intercourse. Most women use menopause as the landmark for this. Menopause however happens really early in life, sometimes in the forties or early fifties and you really do not want to evade intimacy that early in your life. Take it that women aged over 100 years have previously reported having orgasm and enjoying it. There is no reason why you should be different.

We have learnt a lot from scientific studies about benefits of intimacy in old age. People who continue to have sex in old age have less health problems. Their brains remain alert. They are generally happier than those who avoid sex. They tend to live longer.

Do not buy into the myth that diseases in old age prevent people from having sex. This myth is proof that it is not just adolescents who lack knowledge on sexuality, but people of all ages do not have adequate knowledge to manage their sexuality. If this was not the case, people should have known that sex is differently performed based on circumstances of life. Whether it is in pregnancy, after delivery, in debilitating disease or in old age, there is always a best recommended way to have sex. You should strive to make the best out of your situation, and seeking knowledge of how to do it is critical.

“That is a long lecture doctor, so what is the way forward?” James asked, making me realise that I had gone overboard to lecture him, possibly pushed by his emotional outburst.

“It’s time to reboot intimacy with your wife,” I answered. This answer marked the beginning of a six-month journey that I had with James and Sarah. Through sex coaching, therapy and counselling, the couple reconfigured their intimacy and started having sex.

“Strange enough, it is actually exciting and I feel much younger,” Sarah commented in our last meeting. I advised them never to turn back on the exciting journey as they added years to their lives.