Why can’t we just talk about sex?

Why can’t we just talk about sex?


In my previous blog, I wrote about how there is a sexual revolution taking place amongst the over 50s. But this is a silent revolution, still muttered about in harsh tones.

If we’re going to smash taboo we need to get talking about sex post-50 – and here are five obstacles that we need to overcome first.

1. Society’s ageism: A ‘graphic’ sex scene between 69 year-old Charlotte Rampling and 78 year-old Tom Courtenay in the film 45 Years made the headlines on its release earlier this year, challenging the assumption that older people no longer have or even think about sex. When you consider that ‘older’ often refers to ‘over 50’ – so includes George Clooney (54), Liam Neeson (63) and Helen Mirren (70) – it’s ridiculous to type-cast older people as slipper-clad celibates.

How can older people talk about sexual health if society doesn’t accept that they have sex?

2. STI stigma: Despite popular opinion, older people catch STIs, from chlamydia to anogenital warts to HIV. Findings from the HALL (HIV in Later Life) study from Keele University, show that older adults living with HIV feel marginalised, isolated and unable to speak out for fear of being accused of ‘age-inappropriate promiscuity’. Older women and white heterosexual people living with HIV consider themselves ‘a minority, within a minority, within a minority’. As one participant said:

“I think with age the stigma gets worse because as an older person you are expected to set good morals. And to say you are HIV positive, people start thinking. ‘This lady, what was she up to?’”

3. Cultural differences. The baby boomers may be comfortable talking about sexual health, but those born pre-1945 often struggle. Religious or cultural beliefs bring guilt into the equation, while LGBTQ+ older people may be used to keeping silent (after all, homosexuality was illegal until 1967) and fear being ‘outed’ to friends and family.

4. Embarrassment: Awkwardness around buying and using condoms is not just for The Inbetweeners, particularly for those who grew up with the introduction of the contraceptive pill, pre HIV. If you are a 70-year-old man with a wealth of life experience, dating again after 40 years of marriage but with little experience of using condoms, weak erections and limited dexterity… might you not put dignity first, safe sex second?

5.Dismissive docs. Health professionals are less likely to be proactive in discussing sexual health with older people, who, conversely, tend to have more complex needs, navigating chronic conditions and multiple medications. In the grand scheme of things sex and sexual health can sometimes be overlooked.

While the challenges described above can pose a problem in the sexual health revolution, they don’t have to. There doesn’t have to be this awkwardness, embarrassment and stigma. We just need to start the conversation - and then talk some more - and then eventually everyone might feel more confident talking about their sexual health

Tapping into this theme, one focus of FPA’s September’s Sexual Health Week was educating professionals and the public about the sexual pleasure and wellbeing as they get older.  

So don’t be afraid to speak to your doctor about sex, they have these conversations all the time and if you would like more information, there is a wealth out there – visit the FPA website, or read some of the blogs and conversations on this very site.

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