Senior Centers Struggle To Talk the Birds and the Bees

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The television channels with an older audience (think Fox News, CNN, and TV Land) usually run commercials targeted to the nation’s growing senior population. And that often means commercial after commercial for prescription drugs like Cialis, Viagra, and other — ahem — male enhancement drugs.

The truth is, as more seniors begin to live in retirement communities and senior centers, many older Americans are rediscovering their love life.

Seniors in the City

This summer, The Houston Chronicle profiled a speed dating program designed for seniors. It’s a chance for retirees looking for love to get together and find companionship, and sometimes more. While most Americans might not want to think about their grandma going out on dates with gentlemen callers, human beings are social animals, and we don’t stop craving intimacy after a certain age.

“You’ll hear a family say, ‘But we fill grandma’s time,'” Kelley Kelch, leader of the Older Adult Ministry at Oak Hills Presbyterian Church, told The Houston Chronicle. “That’s great. But no one wants to talk about the other needs grandma might have.”

In addition to speed dating, many seniors are even showing up on dating apps usually associated with younger generations, like Tinder and OKCupid.

Celebrity Jane Fonda summed up the new attitude perfectly in an interview with an Italian talk show this July.

“I’m 77,” she said. “If I never have sex again it will be sad.”

Many senior centers are taking an open approach to geriatric sexuality, offering sexual education classes designed to educate seniors about safe sex, sexually transmitted diseases, and other sexual health issues. However, other senior communities are ignoring these issues, often at their own risk.

While the nation’s college students grapple with controversial conversations about consent, the issue of consent takes on new meaning among older demographics.

Because many older Americans suffer from forms of dementia like Alzheimers, it can often be unclear whether a particular patient is capable of consenting to sexual behavior, even with his or her own spouse. And since two out of three Alzheimers patients are women, and at a time when more than 8 million Americans receive healthcare from long-term care providers, many senior advocates are trying to start a more open dialogue about these issues, no matter how uncomfortable they may be.

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