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Intimacy and dating in social context

Having satisfying sexual and intimate relationships and keeping sexually active has been shown to increase our health, wellbeing and enjoyment of life as we age. As we get older, the way we have sex may change for many reasons, including reduced mobility. This does not mean that we become less interested in sex, we just might approach sex in new ways and find what suits us best. 

Many older adults continue to have an active sex life well into their later lives. A study found that in Australia, 72% of people over the age of 60 engage in sexual activities including vaginal or anal intercourse, giving or receiving oral sex, and mutual masturbation. 

For some of us, sex feels more taboo because of misconceptions that are widespread in our society about age and sexual activity. In particular, there are some gendered stereotypes or myths about older women being less interested in sex that are frustratingly common. 

Research shows that it is more complex than this. Sexual function (including desire, arousal, and ability to orgasm) has been shown to drop during the menopause transition for some women. Hormones are not the only reason for this; social, emotional and physical factors can also reduce our sexual function.

But this does not usually last longer than one-year post-menopause. 

Illustration in relationships in a social context

It is perfectly normal to continue wanting and enjoying sex. Because our needs differ from when we were younger, it is essential to get advice that is suitable for our stage of life and to seek out healthcare when we need it. 

It is important that we feel empowered to have conversations about sex with people that we trust. It is crucial to have a doctor who understands and respects our sexual needs as we get older. You can find many resources that can provide you with more information – some of which are listed on this webpage. 

Intimate relationships come in many forms and there is no “normal”. Intimate relationships are not limited to specific sexual orientations or gender identities. People of all sexual orientations and gender identities can engage in many different types of relationships. The information included in this section is general, but it can apply to any type of relationship.

Below, you can watch a video from Relate, a UK based organisation that is dedicated to fostering healthy relationships. In this video, you can listen to older people discussing how their sex lives have changed as they got older and how much joy they have found in this changing dynamic.

References

1800 Respect (2023) National Domestic Family and Sexual Violence Helpline 

ABC News (2023) Actions, not pity, needed to address Australians’ loneliness, mental health advocates say 

Australian Human Rights Commissions (2021) Safety and security for older women 

Australian Institute of Family Studies (2019) Assisting families with aging-related relationship issues

Australian Institute of Family Studies (2020) Powers of attorney and financial abuse of older people in Australia 

Barrett C, Whyte C, Comfort J, Lyons A, Crameri P (2014) Social connection, relations and older lesbian and gay people . Sexual and Relationship Therapy  

Bender AA, Burgess EO, Barmon C (2020) Negotiating the lack of intimacy in assisted living: Resident desires, barriers, and strategies.  Journal of Applied Gerontology 

Brown SL, Shinohara SK (2013) Dating relationships in older adulthood: A national portrait. National Library of Medicine 

Certified Practice Accountant (2023) Financial abuse of older people 

Choi NG, Ha JH (2016) Relationships between spouse/partner support and depressive symptoms in older adults: Gender difference. National Library of Medicine 

Department of Social Services (2022). Seniors connected program 

Dickson FC, Hughes PC, Walker KL (2007) An exploratory investigation into dating among later-life women. Western Journal of Communication 

Ewings SJ (2019) Unique challenges facing older Australian women in the early 21st century. The University of Sydney 

Fuller H, Pikala T, Mullen A (2022) Strengthening late-life family connections. North Dakota State University 

Harvard Health (2019) Mars v Venus: The gender gap in health 

Huang SF, Huang CH, Chen, SF, Lu LT, Gua JL (2019) New partnerships among single older adults: a Q methodology study. BMC Geriatrics 

It’s Time to Talk (2023) Home 

Lifeline (2023). About us 

Luong G, Charles ST, Fingerman KL (2012) Better with age: Social relationships across adulthood. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 

Malta S (n.d.) Intimacy and older adults: A comparison between online and offline romantic relationships. Swinburne University of Technology 

Malta S, Hocking JS, Lyne J, McGavin D, Hunter J, Bickerstaffe A & Temple-Smith M (2018) Do you talk to you older patients about sexual health? Health practitioners’ knowledge of, and attitudes towards, management of sexual health among older Australians. Australian Journal of General Practice 

National Council on Ageing (2023) The widowhood effect: How to survive the loss of a spouse 

Nowakowski AC, Sumerau JE (2019) Women's sexual health in later life: gaps and opportunities in research and practice. Womens Health (Lond) 

Premier of Victoria (2022) Affirmative consent now law in Victoria 

Relationships Victoria (2023) Coping with grief and loss tip sheet 

Relationships Victoria (2023) Counselling  

Relationships Victoria (2023) Healthy relationships tip sheet 

Relationships Victoria (2023) Partners 

Relationships Victoria (2021) Safe from violence  

Seniors Right Victoria (2023) Financial abuse 

Simon JA, Davis SR, Althof SE, Chedraui P, Clayton AH, Kingsberg SA, et al. (2018) Sexual well-being after menopause: an International Menopause Society White Paper. Climacteric 

Steckenrider J (2023) Sexual activity of older adults: let’s talk about it. The Lancet 

SWAN (n.d.) Fact sheets 

Tencza M (2023). Relationships among the elderly: The effects on one’s health and psychosocial wellbeing. Journal of Nursing  

Thomas PA, Liu H, Umberson D (2017) Family relationships and wellbeing. Innovation in Ageing 

Utz RL (2005) The single older woman: Life after marriage. The Gerontologist