Is it possible to be “intoxicated” with love into your 60s, 70s… and even 90s?

patricia weerakoon
Is it possible to be “intoxicated” with love into your 60s, 70s… and even 90s? image

We might not like talking about it, but intimacy – sexual and non-sexual – is a real issue for many of the older people in our churches and families. Let’s not put it in the too-hard basket. 

Proverbs 5:18-19 says, “Rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer – may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be intoxicated with her love”.

Is it possible to be “intoxicated” with love and enjoy sex in marriage into your 60s, 70s… and even 90s?

Even in the sexualised, medicalised environment of today, sexuality in the old and frail is seen as a joke, even a perversion. Faced with this many older people, having received minimal to mythical sexual education, are confused – even fearful – of intimacy and sexuality. Certainly there are challenges, but also joys, in intimacy and sexuality amid ageing and frailty, and there are implications for individuals and for the church.

What the Bible says? 

WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS The Bible teaches that sexuality is neither only about procreation (Song of Songs makes no mention of fertility), nor just for the young. The patriarchs of the Old Testament were sexual through to mature age. Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah 90 when she gave birth to Isaac (Genesis 17:17). Jacob, we read, loved Joseph because he was born to him in his old age (Genesis 37:3). In the New Testament, John the Baptist was born to Zechariah and Elizabeth when they were old (Luke 1:7).

In none of these accounts is there any suggestion of a change in their sexual patterns. This is balanced by Ecclesiastes 12’s description of the challenges of old age and its reference to decreased sexual desire.

But what does this mean for today?

Genesis records that humanity is created in the image of God, as male and female, for deep relationship one with the other. The pinnacle of male-female relationship is marriage. For some marriages, intercourse is a major component of this connection until death. However, even when intercourse is no longer possible (or sometimes desirable), intimacy remains important.

The biblical command of 1 Corinthians 7:5 – “Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time” – is not age limited!

Seniors rejoicing and glorifying God as they celebrate intimacy is clearly God’s plan. Why God-glorifying intimacy rather than God-glorifying sexual intercourse? Because intercourse as a physical activity is only a part of the love, companionship, affection and enduring tenderness that form the glue of the one-flesh relationship of a Christian marriage at any age.

Staying sexually active as you age

Women and men remain sexually active in their 70s and 80s. A British study found that 60 percent of men and 37 percent of women over 65 were sexually active, as were at least 25 percent of men and 10 percent of women aged 85+.

25% of men aged 85+ are sexally active

The most common reason for not having sex was not low desire but lack of a partner. Interestingly, another study shows that for many couples over 75, activities such as touching, hand-holding, embracing, hugging and kissing take precedence over intercourse as satisfying acts of sexual intimacy. In addition, sexual activity contributes to physical and psychological well-being in aging.

However, high divorce rates and partner changes at older ages in Australia – together with the take-up of online dating – have resulted in an increase of sexually transmitted infections and contributed to an increase in porn use in residential care. This generation equated safe sex with avoiding pregnancy and condom use with prostitution, so its members see no need for protection when having postmenopausal “fun” in a perceived safe environment. This, too, is something the church needs to be aware of and speak about.

In the context of church family, what does honouring your parents mean in terms of supporting older people’s needs for intimacy and sexuality?