Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sexuality and Old Age - In India or Anywhere Else

Ok, so this is a taboo subject … for all of us … in India or anywhere else, except may be in some of the tribes who have not been infected by our kind of “civilization”.

So what is it that I want to write about? Sexuality in old age, or the way society looks at it? I am not sure, for the subject is so vast and there are so many things to say, that I think I will limit this post only on one or two aspects.

First of all, I believe that

- the idea of sexuality for long has been confined largely to heaving, gleaming bodies entwined in lust, but bodies which are young, muscular or shapely.
- that in popular myths, sexuality is, all about lust and fulfillment of that through sexual intercourse and that too is when you are young in your body.
- That Images of people with lined faces, slacking muscles and shaking hands, embracing each other in a lustful way makes some of us feel uncomfortable and evokes disgust and shame.

Sexuality itself is such a taboo subject that we can indulge in it only through forbidden or voyeuristic pleasures or by sublimating it a higher philosophical plane where the body does not exist. In this scenario, sexuality in the elderly is not part of our collectively held image of the elderly in India.

In India, one of the collective images about the elderly is that of people who surrender in prayer to the divine, engaging in morning or evening walks to keep sickness at bay, playing the role of the babysitter/additional helping hand at home and/or waiting for death to come and rescue them. The other collective picture of the elderly (now brought to the fore by the media) is the healthy, smart, enthusiastic and independent (read deep pocketed) individual who doesn’t mind flirting with her spouse, goes out on holidays and has a good time.

I am not claiming that either of these pictures is undesirable. The issue that I am trying to bring to the fore is that what certainly happens in old age is that your body becomes less agile and one certainly feels less enthusiastic about sexuality as one did before. Immediate fulfillment of lust may not even be as important as it was before, but that does not mean that older people lose their lustfulness, their sexual arousal or their need for passionate and tender love from their partners.

Where I have a problem is that either older people are shown as “less than able” as compared to the youthful generation or their image is carefully built so that youthfulness is preserved in these characters. So even when they flirt or are provocative, they necessarily imitate the younger generation, and when get caught, they feel ashamed and have a strong need to hide it from others! (Remember one of the monthly income scheme ad?). My protest is towards inducing the subtle element of shame in these pictures. What is there to feel ashamed of?

Some of the recent studies state and I quote

“Humans have sex for several reasons. Sex serves many purposes not related to reproduction. Sex is a way to express love and it also provides the feeling of security and reconfirms the feelings shared between people, regardless of age. Sex has also been shown to calm people in stressful periods. Sex has a symbolic value, which is independent of age.

However sex between elderly people is often treated as a taboo by society. Whilst sex itself is a sensitive topic due to its private nature, sex between seniors is often treated with extra care. This attitude is especially common among younger people and it has been suggested that this may be caused by younger people's belief that the lust and ability to have sex diminishes once the primary reason for sex is no longer present.”

Quoted from

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All that I am trying to put up here is that as people grow older, their physical and emotional needs become different than when they were younger. While sexuality is certainly not only about sexual coitus but also of passion, intimacy, tenderness and is emotionally fulfilling; physical intimacy and yes, the bad word "intercourse" does play a significant part in it. Therefore, why look at the older person as someone who is wise and tranquil and does not have an iota of lust in them? Can we for a change look at them as people who are matured (at least in age), and have similar need for a fulfilling physical intimate relationship with the desired partner, be it intercourse or gentle loving touch? Can we concede to ourselves that youthfulness may not be all that important to have a zest for life?

What are your views? What do you think?


  1. Well, it's nice to read u sharbouri after a long time!

    U have brought up a very sensitive and a very thought provoking issue. Rightly, elderly are expected to pray, and not indulge in sexual activities... as a general perception of our society.

    But, i guess the times are changing, with ppl paying more attention to their bodies(health) and lives (finances). Things are going to change. In fact, I see this generation of 60s much more liberated and much more financially independent as the earlier generation.

    U must have read the news of a 60 yr old TV actress marrying a gentleman of 65 yrs.... it's a change. yes, kids find it tough to accept... but i think, we must teach our children to see their parents as individual, human beings also, apart from being a role model or a parent.

    Lastly, i joke with my family that they should not expect a stereotyped grandma from me!! I'm going to be a sexy grandma... sexy and modern so to say!!

    really missed ur writings.
    take care


  2. @restless - thank you. sexy grandma will be nice, very nice :-)

  3. This is a very sensitively portrayed picture of elders in our society. Sexuality need not even mean the act itself. It means a lot of things. When an older woman looks at her husband of half a century, there is sexuality in it without the urgent need to paw at each other. I think it is wrong to show such moments as lustful ones and attach a tag of shame to the whole thing. let the older generation live its live naturally -- with or without sex. After all, it is a personal thing and is entirely between the partners and if they are fulfilled with each other, isn't it wonderful? Great post, Sharbori.

  4. @zephyr: thank you for your comment.

    I think as a nation, we fantasize about sexuality much more than actually indulge in it with loving tender warmth, love and care. Perhaps, that is why it is over hyped and all the hoopla about measuring the sexual quotient takes place and the yellow journalism thrives.

  5. As somebody who is still in the 20's age group, I must say that I myself have never related the elderly in our society with sexuality. It has never been a question of acceptability or taboo as the link itself has never been addressed.

    In a society where children are brought up to respect the elderly and look upon them as living lives of spirituality or religion, maybe most young people think it is disrespectful of them to link sexuality with elders.

    I guess sex has never been seen as a basic human drive like hunger or thirst by our cultural norms. As times are changing most young people are coming to terms with the fact that their elders also seek love, companionship and intimacy in their lives. However it is still considered to be perverse to link it with sexuality. It would be far healthier to be open to such aspects and maybe with changing times this change will happen to.

    Really a strong, thought provoking topic. Nice post and lovely to see you blogging again :)

  6. @antara: good to hear from you. missed you for a while.

    like you said, even when I was writing the piece, I had some hesitation of how people would take the idea itself.


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