Supporting older people’s needs for intimacy and sexuality
We have seen that the need for relationship and intimacy does not disappear and that many marriages enjoy sexuality until the couple is parted by death. Older people, especially the frail aged, are often lonely. Never has there been a more urgent need to encourage loving relationships in married partners and within the church family.
So here is a question: in the context of church family, what does honouring your parents mean in terms of supporting older people’s needs for intimacy and sexuality?
1. Recognising that older people are sexual is a critical first step.
2. There is a need for research on the theology of sexuality and intimacy for frail older people.
3. Family members have a responsibility to be understanding and compassionate if a person they care for seeks sexual intimacy.
Christians facing this challenge need to ask: Is my loved one cognitively able to make the decision? Are they in any way abusive? Would this be an act of infidelity? Should we advise marriage? Is the person expressing sexual desire or a desire for relationship? Is it the expression of the physical skin hunger every human feels for a caring touch rather than the clinical touch? We may be uncomfortable grappling with these questions, and that raises a couple more. Is our discomfort the result of personal biases and misconceptions of sexual intimacy and the elderly? Or is it maybe a more selfish motive, such as the fear of losing an inheritance? You may choose to discuss these questions with your minister.
4. In a church community, we need to care for the need for intimacy and companionship of the aged in our church family.
Younger members of the church are called to serve by caring and loving the old and marginalised as humbly as Christ loved us. As we learn from Paul (1 Timothy 5:1-2), “Don’t rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat… older women as you would your mothers”. Practically this could mean visiting with older people. Hold their hand, sing some of their favourite songs, and yours, with them. Never assume older adults are disinterested int he activities of young people. Tell them about your life and ask for their prayers for you.
Go a step further if you can and arrange for a massage, manicure or pedicure for your elderly relative. So, exhort if needed, but love with compassion always. Walk in the shoes of your elderly relative or friend. You will be there some day.
Reflect on your Church?
Let me end on a personal note. How does your church support the aged members of the church family in terms of their sexuality and intimacy? Do you encourage married couples to continue in other-focused loving so their lives and decades of covenant commitment portray God’s faithfulness to younger generations? Do you support your ageing singles with the love and intimate companionship of a family? Are you there to offer friendship and touch to our frail and lonely? If we are not doing this, we fall short of Jesus’ instructions to honour our parents, love God and our neighbour (Matthew 19:18-19).