Advancing age doesn’t necessarily preclude sexual activity

Q. I’m 75, and I have been dating a man who is in his 80s. I had no idea that he was interested in sex, but I guess he is. I’m embarrassed to ask any of my friends, and my children would be horrified. Are most men this age still interested in sex?

A. Sexual activity declines with age, but a recent research study found that approximately 25 percent of those in their 80s were still sexually active. You seem to have found one in the 25 percent category.

Many women in your age range, and truthfully, in every age range, have difficulty discussing sex with a partner. However, in your case, it is a necessity. First of all, you need to decide if you want to be sexually active. Second, you must discuss what sexually active means to you and your partner. Does it mean intercourse or does it just mean touching, kissing, and cuddling? Third, you must decide if you are willing to participate. Is marriage necessary for you to have an intimate relationship? If so, do you want to marry the man you are now dating?

We live in a society that has an ageist attitude about sexual activity. Children, even those in their 50s and 60s, are often horrified to learn that their parents are still sexual beings. Many younger people believe that seniors cannot function sexually, that it is dangerous to their health, or that they are morally perverted. None of this is true.

The decision to become sexually active is left to you and your partner. Since you are embarrassed to discuss this with your friends, you may wish to consult someone you trust such as your physician, your minister, or a mental health professional.

Q. My father died six months ago, and I’m worried about my mother. She was his caregiver for the last two years and seemed OK for the first few months after his death. Now she seems depressed. Is this normal?

A. Grief after the death of a spouse follows no certain pattern. Since your father was sick for several years and your mother was the caregiver, there may have been a sense of relief upon his death. This reaction is normal and should cause no guilt. The relief is often short-lived when the realities of life without one’s spouse become apparent and the hours spent caregiving are not being absorbed by other activities.

According to research studies on widowhood, most women experience chronic grief for approximately six months after the death of a spouse. When questioned again at 18 months, most of the women reported fond memories of their spouse and yearning for him, but they were no longer experiencing chronic grief.

Encourage your mother to attend a support group for widows and widowers. Many people avoid these resources because they feel they will be depressing. However, the majority of individuals who attend groups find them to be helpful in dealing with loss and in making a new circle of friends. Many churches and communities have groups for widows and widowers. If there is not one available in her area, there are also support groups on-line.

Your mother is likely working through the stages of grief and will be back to her normal state within a few months. During this time, she needs the support of family and friends. However, be certain that she does not rely too much on her children and grandchildren. She needs to be encouraged to get involved in activities she may have placed on hold. If she is not already doing so, many widows find fulfillment by volunteering to help those in need.

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Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate degree in psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City where she maintained a private practice. She now teaches psychology at Southeast Arkansas College. E-mail your questions to The questions will not be answered personally, but could appear in a future column. There will be no identifying information and all e-mails remain confidential.