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SKEPTOID BLOG:

Elderly Sexual Activity: Some More Myths

by Bruno Van de Casteele

June 8, 2014

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Donate Last month, I reported on research done in Belgium that debunked several myths around sexuality. This research was done by one of the two biggest universities in the Flemish-speaking part of the country, Ghent. Not to be outdone (I guess), the other university (Leuven) published information [Dutch] on a related sexual theme. They reported on a new study about dealing with elderly that are (or are not) sexually active, in a professional caregiving environment (such as hospitals and homes for the elderly).

One of the researchers, Lieselot Mahieu, will soon be presenting her PhD in biomedical ethics. As part of her doctoral studies she asked more than 1,000 medical staff to fill in a questionnaire. As her research focussed on elderly with dementia or other medical issues, she did not interview patients themselves.

She found two conflicting myths. Firstly, the subject of sex is still taboo and the elderly are not expected to have a need for it. Secondly, there seems to be a new myth, namely that "sexy oldies" ought to be sexually active. This is no better, as it creates expectations that cannot always be met.

As a conclusion, Mahieu suggests letting elderly people be themselves. Sexuality is important for a human being, but how it gets expressed is different for every person and evolves over the years.

There is another, more skeptical conclusion she presents. The problem with questionnaires, even anonymous ones, is that people want to give the impression they are more tolerant and more open than they really are. She noticed that questions relating to elder family members get less tolerant responses, indicating that there probably still is some latent conservatism with regard to perceptions of elder sexual activity.

The researcher promises several more studies to delve into this and to find out how these professional caregivers really act and think. It's a nice skeptical note that serves as a warning for any study using questionnaires and an excuse for more research.

 

by Bruno Van de Casteele

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