‘Romance and adventure need not be the preserve purely of the wrinkle-free’

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The portrayal of older people in the media is frequently limited to marginal roles and stereotypical depictions of vulnerability and dependence which neglect the huge diversity of experience of the ‘older’ demographic. The BBC offers a breath of fresh air in its latest romcom production, ‘Last Tango in Halifax’ which is unusual in its focus on the relationship of two older people and their experience of love and lust following an encounter on Facebook.

In public discourse, intimacy and sexuality is synonymous with youthfulness and vitality[1] but sex, of course is not confined to one’s 20s. A survey for the British Medical Journal (2008) found that more couples over 70 are having sex and deriving greater enjoyment from their sexual relationships than in previous generations [2]. Similarly, figures from the Health Protection Agency (2010) published last year demonstrated a rise over the last decade in people in their 50s, 60s and 70s embarking on new sexual partnerships [3]. Not only are we living longer, healthier lives but the spread of social networking sites means that forming relationships at any age is increasingly acceptable and accessible.

Whilst the sex lives of the healthy older population may frequently be overlooked, the experience of those in a care setting are likely to be denied altogether. The ILC-UK’s 2011 guide ‘The Last Taboo’ addresses this issue, offering guidance on dementia, sexuality, intimacy and sexual behaviour in care homes. The guide highlights the importance of acknowledging that older people with dementia have a need for intimacy, love and sexual expression and are capable of forming new intimate relationships. As long as the person with dementia is able to make decisions about their life, then their decisions should be respected and an environment of acceptance, dignity and privacy for all residents must be fostered in the care setting.

A recent Women’s Hour special [4] discussed the need for a change in public perception which would recognise that sex does not in fact stop at 60. The more we are exposed in the media to the loves and lives of older people, including those with dementia, the more readily we will accept that older people too are capable of making choices about their intimate relationships. As the programme concluded, this period in life, with children and work behind you, is in fact the perfect time for a wild relationship!

Florence Vojak

The title for this blog post is from the Huffington Post review of Last Tango in Halifax.

[1] http://www.ilcuk.org.uk/index.php/publications/publication_details/the_last_taboo_a_guide_to_dementia_sexuality_intimacy_and_sexual_behaviour
[2] Kleinplatz, Peggy (2008) Sexuality and older people. British Medical Journal. 337(7662) 151-154
[3] http://www.hpa.org.uk/web/HPAweb&HPAwebStandard/HPAweb_C/1287145264558
[4] http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01p09p4

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