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Intimacy and Aging

intimacy, aging

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent/Family and Consumer Sciences

Like adults of all ages, older adults desire to continue sharing their life in a fulfilling intimate relationship. Lack of the ability to intimately express oneself is often associated with despondency and depression. Many older adults are as active today as they were in their younger years. This includes enjoying intimate relationships. A healthy intimate relationship can positively affect all aspects of life, including physical health and self-esteem.

Once our survival needs are met, no single aspect of our lives contributes more to our satisfaction with life or to our sense of psychological wellbeing than our intimate relationships.

Intimacy refers to a distinctively close level of communication between two people. Intimacy may be reflected in confiding or candid talk; meaningful shared silences; mutually enjoyed activities; or of course in sexual interaction. But "intimacy" is not a synonym for sex; rather, it should suggest the idea that sex is potentially a unique type of communication.

In an intimate or close relationship, you feel free to be yourself, to care for another person, to ask for what you need. These are the relationships that contribute to our happiness or, when they go wrong or fail, to our misery. Intimacy also has been thought of as companionship and has been associated with emotional bonding.

Intimacy is a "warm friendship," while sexuality is the use of words, gestures, movements or activities that attempt to display physical affection. Sexual activity in healthy relationships helps people to stay in good physical condition and helps to reduce physical and psychological stress.

Facts EVERYONE should know about aging and intimacy:

  • As one ages, the amount of sexual activity generally decreases, however, the amount of sexual interest and ability remains fairly constant.
  • If one's sexuality is constant throughout life, the biological changes associated with aging are less pronounced and sexuality is usually less affected.
  • Understanding that sexuality is normal and natural for older adults is an important step to realizing one's own sexuality and becoming more comfortable with sexuality.
  • "Sexual health" can be beneficial to the overall health of an older adult. The physical exertion associated with sex is nearly the equivalent of walking up two flights of stairs. With this in mind, it is easy to understand that sex for the patient of a heart operation would rarely be dangerous. (Consult your physician concerning the risks associated with sex following a major heart surgery.)
  • If you have concerns related to health and sexual function (including drug interactions, chronic health problems, or surgical procedures) make a point to discuss these concerns with your physician or seek counseling and education from a therapist.
  • A healthy diet and regular exercise keep your body finely tuned. This will keep you ready for sex at any age. Eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, most days of the week. Avoid alcohol, as excessive use decreases sexual function in both men and women.

For more information related to aging issues, visit the NDSU Extension Aging Well webpage at https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/aging.

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