Because efforts to include sex education into school curricula did not take hold until the 1960s, many of today’s 65plus did not have access to formal sexual education through school. As a result, it is more likely that we harbor misinformation about sexual health. Being educated about sexual health should not be limited to the sharing of information. Sexual education also includes education about prevention practices (i.e., safe sex practices), a discussion of attitudes about sexuality and campaigns to help increase sexual desire and enjoyment. While it may be easier to obtain information about sexual education through passive means such as the internet, books and brochures, it is critical that this important health information be actively sought through discussions with health care providers and health educators. Just as we understand how changes that are associated with age impact our physical and psychological health, it is important that we also understand our ever-changing sexual health.
History of sex education in the U.S. Planned Parenthood (2016). pp.1-17.
Sexual health: Communicating with your caregiver or health care provider
Talking with a caregiver or health care provider about sexual health can be a difficult thing to do but it is absolutely necessary. One might feel as though it is an uncomfortable topic and that the doctor or caregiver may not understand the mental and physical changes associated with sexual health as we age. Whatever the reason, it is utterly important that sexual health is addressed even through older adulthood. Let’s face it, sex and romantic relationships don’t end in our 60’s. Many people 80 years and older are still sexually active! This is why there needs to be conversation around this topic to help address sexual health in an open and honest setting. Learning how to approach your doctor or caregiver about your sexual health is important, otherwise how would we know if the changes we may be going through are normal? Doctors or caregivers often feel just as uncomfortable bringing up sexual health as the 65plus population, so discover65plus wants to work towards changing that dynamic by addressing sexual health openly and honestly making these conversations easier for both parties.
Social relationships: Social isolation
Many people do not understand the value of social interaction. Even as infants, the need for interaction and to be acknowledged by others is important for the development of children as they age and this is just as important when we become older adults. Social isolation can lead to a decrease in life expectancy due to the physical and mental effects on health such as depression or cardiovascular disease. As an older adult, you may see a decrease in your social circle as you lose friendships with changes in role, retirement, friends of children leaving the area and through the passing of friends. This stresses the importance for the 65plus community to remain active and social through older adulthood. Participating in community activities that include fairs, senior centers, farmers markets, etc. can make steps in the right direction to avoid social isolation. By being engaged and active with others and in the community, one can even increase their life expectancy and overall quality of life!
Social relationships: Dating (romantic relationships)
As we age our perceptions of dating and romantic relationships may change. Studies show that in older adulthood, men are more interested in marriage than women whereas women often times are most interested in avoiding a caregiver burden. Among unmarried older individuals, 14% are in dating relationships (Brown & Shinohara 2014). Whether the concern is getting back into the dating world or maintaining your health and safety while dating, it is important to gain a better understanding on how romantic relationships can affect you in older adulthood. Being open with caregivers about certain issues or concerns one may have about dating or being in a romantic relationship can help them to better care for older adults and understand the changes that happen to them along the way. As we know, dating does not end in our 60’s therefor neither should the conversation with caregivers or healthcare professionals.
Brown, S. L., & Shinohara, S.K. (2013). Dating relationships in older adulthood: A national portrait. National Institute of Health Public Access, 75(5), 1194-1202.
Social relationships: Friendships
By the time we are age 65plus our circle of friends may be completely different than it was in our 20’s. Being an older adult, you may see a decrease in your social circle as friendships are lost, roles change, people retire, and through the passing of friends. As an older adult, experience has shaped the way we perceive friendships and the value that we put on it. Not all friends are equal, some bring more to the table and to the friendship than others which can lead to social pruning. Social pruning can be viewed much like gardening plants, except in this case for people and relationships. This occurs as individuals begin to cut off friendships that lack investment or do not offer reciprocity in order to avoid putting time and effort into relationships that have nothing to offer. As our social circle changes, we must be prepared for the effects of those changes on health. Positive friendships can be rewarding for the mind and body whereas negative or toxic friendships can be detrimental to health because they have the potential to drive people into social isolation. Speaking to a caregiver or healthcare professional may help some people realize that their health could be affected by a person close to them. Understanding the dynamic of friendships and the risks and benefits that come with them can help both the caregiver and 65plus population to ensure that older adults are engaging in healthy social interactions and friendships that overall benefit older adults.