Attitudes toward Sexuality and Aging

  • Jennifer Hillman


Findings from large scale national surveys of young, middle-aged, and older adults’ attitudes toward sexuality and aging suggest that our youth-oriented culture views aging as a tragic event rather than an opportunity for personal growth and change. Unfortunately, many older adults internalize and generalize such negative societal attitudes and ageist stereotypes, and diminish or stop their participation in sexual expression out of fear and shame. After one considers the availability of a partner and general health status, one of the most important determinants of older adults’ sexual activity is the positivity of their attitudes toward sexuality and aging. Attitudes toward sexuality and aging range from permissive to restrictive, curious to avoidant, and can be global or specific in relation to particular behaviors such as masturbation, oral sex, sexuality among LGBT individuals, or sexuality within an institutional context. As clinicians, it is not sufficient to be aware of both our clients’ and general society’s attitudes about sexuality and aging. We also must be cognizant of our own attitudes as individuals. To some extent, it does not matter as much whether our own attitudes are permissive or restrictive, as long as we become aware of them and override any personal biases (either positive or negative) to provide our clients with the most appropriate, objective information and care. A variety of exercises are offered for the self-assessment of both explicit (i.e., conscious) and implicit (i.e., automatic; unconscious) attitudes toward sexuality and aging. Clinicians also must be aware of their own, potentially sexualized feelings toward their older patients, and of the presence of any sexualized attitudes that may be directed at them by their clients. Although such sexualized attitudes represent some of the most challenging subjects to broach, the analysis of such feelings can provide some of the most valuable information regarding clients’ attitudes toward sexuality, sex role conflicts, their sense of intrinsic value, and difficulties with or needs for intimacy.


Therapeutic Relationship Sexualized Attitude Sexual Attraction Sexual Expression Implicit Attitude 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jennifer Hillman
    • 1
  1. 1.Psychology DepartmentPennsylvania State University Berks CollegeReadingUSA

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