Promoting and supporting the sexual rights of older adults

Promoting and supporting the sexual rights of older adults

There is a tendency to stereotype older adults as sexless: that they’re not interested in sex, do not catch sexual diseases, and are not at risk of sexual assault. Sharron Hinchliff elaborates on what would be the benefits of a sexual rights approach.

Sexual rights come to the fore when we consider the life histories of today’s generation of older adults. Many grew-up during a time when gender roles were rigid, so diverse sexual and gender identities were not understood or accepted.

Having a history of being treated differently can have a cumulative effect and older adults who have experienced long-term prejudice may be less open about their identity than younger people. Similarly, women who grew-up when rape within marriage was not legally recognised may have different understandings of what constitutes sexual assault than the young women of today. These are just two examples, but they highlight the need for a sexual rights approach.

A sexual rights approach ensures that older adults are treated with dignity and respect, and feel empowered to safely express their sexuality. A sexual rights approach tackles restrictive social attitudes and a lack of awareness so that services can offer support for the sexuality-related needs of older adults. It will be culturally sensitive as sexual rights are always politically motivated. We know the impact on quality of life when people are denied their sexual rights.

This blog post is a call to action: we can all do something to promote and support the sexual rights of older adults. Be active, get your message heard. Be advocates, and create positive change.


Read more:

Ageism and sexuality


Sharron Hinchliff is Reader in Psychology and Health at the University of Sheffield, UK. She has carried out research into older adults’ sexual and intimate relationships since 2001. Sharron is the founder of the #SexRightAge campaign, and recently published Addressing the Sexual Rights of Older People (2018) with Catherine Barrett. See her website for further details:


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