Senior citizens want the rest of us to know that the desire to smooch, cuddle and have sex never ends — and we should quit being squeamish about old-timers getting some loving.
If everyone can relax about it, then residents of seniors’ lodges won’t feel ashamed for having sleepovers down the hall and they won’t feel ashamed about asking their doctors for an HIV test.
A widespread squeamishness when it comes to talking about sex among oldsters may be to blame for a deadly situation.
“New HIV infections in the over 50 age group were 6.5 per cent in 1995 and 13.5 per cent in 2005,” says Nicole Hergert, community development manager for the Calgary Sexual Health Centre. “So we can infer that the HIV rates have doubled in 10 years.”
Hergert says those figures, which are from the Public Health Agency of Canada, point to the need for the old and young to get comfortable talking about sex.
“The numbers we have for HIV rates are an indicator about our comfort rate about talking about sexuality,” says Hergert. “It’s complex, but in part, if we’re not comfortable talking about sex and sexuality then we’re not comfortable talking to people about how to prevent sexually transmitted infections — and then we see an increase in STIs.”
“It’s all well and good if someone 50 and over is comfortable talking about sex, but if they try to go to their doctor and their doctor is not comfortable talking about it, then they’re no better off.”
Enter a seniors theatre troupe that is trying to change the way everyone thinks about sex among the old-timers.
Until December 9, the Seniors a GOGO are performing frank and funny monologues about their own personal experiences to try and crack open the subject of sex among the 60-to-100-plus age group. The troupe was created by the Calgary Sexual Health Centre, the Seniors Action Group and The Foundation Lab to address seniors’ sexuality, and it shows how to prevent sexually transmitted infections.
George Hopkins, an 81-year-old performer with Seniors a GOGO, says sex wasn’t talked about when he was growing up. He learned about it on the farm.
But now Hopkins has opened up about sex. He talks to audiences about such things as trying to open condom packages, discovering lube and how the animals’ sex lives compared to his own.
“The turkeys and the chickens didn’t impress me much as sexual performers, but the cows, horses and pigs — they knew what it was all about and it was a joy to behold,” Hopkins told an audience at the public library in Shawnessy on November 19. “When I look back, I’m amazed my wife has been with me for 57 years. I didn’t have the manhood of the stallion, the lasting quality of the boar or the reloading ability of the bull, but I can honestly say I had more fun than all of them.”
Through laughs and tender moments, Hopkins and the other Seniors a GOGO performers convey the message that we need to recognize that sexuality is part of being human and that physical affection brings joy to life at any age.
The troupe also wants the under-60 crowd to consider that if we can start being supportive of the sexto-, septua- and octogenarians (and older) having sex, then by the time we find ourselves in seniors’ lodges maybe we’ll be able to have shame-free sex in our golden years, too.
“How you react now paves the way for the future,” Amalia Tauber, an 84-year-old member of Seniors a GOGO, pointed out to the audience. “With any luck, you, too, will grow old and have a rich and full life with intimate relationships.”
The Calgary Sexual Health Centre is working with nurses, social workers and care providers, including seniors lodge supervisors, to address concerns about seniors’ sexuality.
Policies surrounding supporting seniors’ sexual expression vary among the assisted living lodges. Hergert says the public care provider Carewest is among the most progressive with its policies on supporting sexuality.
Marlene Collins, the chronic care director with Carewest, says that they view sexuality as a normal part of living — and that includes sleepovers among lodge residents.
“Our role is to offer non-judgmental, supportive care to residents,” she says. “There will be provision of private time and space for intimacy and sexual expression.”
However, Collins, Hergert and the Seniors a GOGO members all said that different staff members in different lodges across the city, private and public, have varying comfort levels with sexuality.
How a staff member feels about physical affection among seniors can mean the difference between putting the bed rails up to help a set of cuddlers be safe or having a gut reaction of scorn, prompting one of the cuddlers to head back to his or her own room.
For gay and lesbian seniors, the prospect of trying to express love in a seniors’ lodge is a bigger obstacle. Public displays of affection among homosexuals are not yet common outside of a lodge, let alone inside a lodge.
Del, a 60-year-old troupe member who has asked that her last name not be published, says as a lesbian she is on a mission to stay out of a seniors lodge.
“My greatest fear is to be in a place like that and have a man make an advance on me — and to be cared for by people who don’t understand (my sexuality),” she says. “So I’m staying healthy so I don’t have to go in there.”
Published December 9, 2010 in the Fast Forward Weekly.