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Seniors and Red Sock Sex

by Jim Longworth

Last year a nursing home in Eastbourne England made news when it was discovered that prostitutes were hired to service elderly male residents. Men who received ladies of the evening, put a red sock on the door knob to ensure privacy. That makes sense because you never want your knob exposed in those situations. Nursing home manager Sue Wyatt told the Times of London that the “third party ‘consultants’ helped residents with their needs”. Helen Barrow, who formerly managed that same facility told the Sun, “professionals offer a service that is both therapeutic to residents … and helpful to staff”. She was referring to how the presence of hookers has spared staff nurses from being groped on a regular basis. As shocking as this sex saga seems to some of us, it is not an isolated incident, nor is it a new phenomena.

As far back as 2008, Bloomberg reported on similar activity occurring at a nursing home in Denmark. Meanwhile, according to Daniel Reingold, CEO of New York’s Hebrew Home, residents of his facility are having plenty of sex, not with prostitutes, but with each other. Reingold told About.com reporter Anthony Cirillo, “Anything people do at home, they’re allowed to do here.”

Clearly, nursing home sex is becoming more common. Recently the Journal of Clinical Geriatrics conducted a survey of fifteen Texas nursing homes, and found that 8% of residents had engaged in sexual intercourse, while another 17% said they wish they had. But senior sex is not just occurring in nursing facilities. In 2008, a survey by the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that 25% of people between the ages of 75 and 85 were having sex, and doing it at least once every two weeks.

Late last year, the Journal updated its survey, and found an increase in sexual intercourse among 75-85 year olds. The study also showed that 50% of seniors give or receive oral sex. But those figures might be conservative. New York Times columnist Ezekiel Emanuel cites two other studies (by the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project, and the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior) which show that more than 50% of men and 40% of women over 60 are sexually active.

OK, so the good news is that older folks are having sex more often than they used to. Or as comedian Bill Maher said, “70 is the new 69”. The bad news, though, is that many sexy seniors haven’t been too careful in their amorous activities. Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control reported that venereal disease among seniors has nearly tripled over the past decade. In particular, Chlamydia among Americans 65 and older is up by 31%, and Syphilis by 52%.

In his column, Emanuel cites four main reasons for the rise in STDs among the elderly. First, we are living longer and we’re in better health. Second is that retirement communities and nursing homes “are becoming like college campuses”. Says Emanuel, “They cram a lot of simi larly aged people together and when they do, things naturally happen”. The third factor is the acceptance and availability of drugs like Viagra which facilitate more sexual activity. But the fourth and perhaps biggest contributor to the rise in geriatric STDs is lack of protection. Older folks who are now in their 70’s and 80’s came of age during a time when they didn’t have to worry about AIDS and other consequences of unprotected sex. That’s why it’s not surprising that only 6% of geriatric males use condoms. That compares to today’s college age males who use condoms 40% of the time.

In December of last year, University of Chicago sex researcher Dr. Edward Laumann told NBC news, “Most people assume that people stop doing ‘it’ after some vague age”. Perhaps the professor is correct. When I was a kid growing up in the 1950’s and 1960’s, I never imagined my parents having sex. After all, they were in their forties then and that was ancient. Besides, what kid wants to conjure up a visual of his Mom and Dad doing the nasty. But we can no longer be in denial about the rise in sexual activity among seniors. As Slate.com’s Daniel Engber points out, within a few decades, “nursing homes will be replete with the desires and expectations of almost 7 million liberated baby boomers”.

Obviously we need to educate seniors about the dangers of STDs, but we certainly don’t want to discourage intimacy among them. It also occurs to me that I am now a senior, so I say to all my elderly brethren, either be monogamous, or put a sock on all your knobs. !

JIM LONGWORTH is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11am on WMYV (cable channel 15).

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