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1971: The sexuality of aging.

... Society tends to inflict sexual incapacity on the aging person as a kind of wish fulfillment, as if to say, "You are old and finished with life, so you should be finished with sex--especially since trying to meet your sex-related needs might add to the bother of looking after you." So in institutions for the aging, except for occasional over-supervised events, the old ladies see only other old ladies and the old gentlemen may be in contact only with other old gentlemen. Even married couples may be separated--as, invariably, will lovers who are unmarried for any one of a number of valid reasons. Relatives acquiesce or conspire in this as if ashamed that a parent or grandparent should still be human enough for sexual loneliness. Denial of the right to feel and of opportunity to fulfill affective needs is not only one of the many ways in which we dehumanize the aging, but is one of the most effective in that it strikes at the part of each one that is most personal, most meaningful, most private, most difficult to acknowledge.

Society's view of the aging person is rarely in phase with that aging person's view of himself. Who among us has the capacity to imagine what it will be and feel like to be aged--when it will be too late to do anything ourselves about how it is and feels except to reach out to another in the same situation? The spark of a new and zestful relationship can literally bring a sense of renewal of life itself to two people previously convinced that life was forever finished. Love, expressed and fulfilled, is in short supply these days. Aging people have as much need and capacity for expression of it as the rest of us--perhaps more. "Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being." When physical well-being deteriorates, a heightened sense of mental or social well-being can help to right the precarious balance of remaining days. If a trip to the beauty parlor or a convivial glass of wine at dinner have proved worth their weight in gold for the mental and social health of aging men and women, in what coinage could we measure the value of the greatest of all medications--a warm, loving, intimate human relationship no matter how expressed?

Excerpted from SIECUS Newsletter, Volume 7, Issue 1, October 1971.

Mary S. Calderone, M.D.
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Title Annotation:Forty Years of Growing SIECUS on Sexuality and Aging; Sex Information and Education Council of the United States
Author:Calderone, Mary S.
Publication:SIECUS Report
Date:Mar 22, 2004
Words:401
Previous Article:SIECUS turns forty.
Next Article:1976: sexuality and aging.
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