The sex industry should consider older adults when they develop new products and help to counter ageist stereotypes about the sexuality of older people while they’re at it, a medical ethicist has argued in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

Though older people experience physical changes that can interfere with sexual functioning as they grow older, sexual desire remains, writes Dr Nancy Jecker of the University of Washington. 

We should be supporting older people to maintain sexual activity that is appropriate to their needs and abilities, and sex robots could be one way to achieve that goal, she writes. Helping older people to engage in sex is a form of self expression, and helps them to maintain a sense of their identity.

But agesit views means the sexual needs of older people are often not considered by medical practitioners or when people develop sex toys and aids, and that should change. 

Sexual desire remains, despite physical obstacles

Older adults undergo physical changes that affect their sexual enjoyment, Dr Jecker explained.

“For older women, this includes shortening and narrowing of the vagina, thinning of the vaginal walls, and reduced lubrication.

“For older men, it includes taking longer to have an erection, not having an erection as firm or long as in the past, or longer duration between erections.”

Older people are also more likely to experience health conditions, such as arthritis, chronic pain, dementia, heart disease and incontinence, that can interfere with sexual functioning.

Yet despite the difficulties, older people maintain sexual feelings and desires, and they adapt over the course of their lives to suit their circumstances and capabilities, Dr Jecker writes. 

Research shows that older people remain sexually active. In a 2007 study of older home-dwelling people in the United States, researchers found that more than half (53%) of 65-74 year olds were sexually active, as were more than a quarter (26%) of 75-85 year olds.

Society ridicules the sexuality of older people

But more than health and physical limitations stand in the way of sexuality in our later years. The sexuality of older people is ridiculed and stigmatised by society, Dr Jecker writes.

“We are still a very ageist society,” Rhonda Nay, Emeritus Professor, Office Nursing & Midwifery, La Trobe University, told HelloCare.

“People can’t think about their parents haveing sex without gagging,” said Dr Nay, who is an expert in caring for older people and older people’s sexuality.

“We associate sexuality with youth and stereotypical beauty: firm skin, muscles, young boobs, six packs,” Dr Nay says.

Dr Jecker says, “People in many societies cherish youthful beauty and react with distaste to the bodies of older adults, comparing them unfavourably to a former youthful individual.”

Older people tend to hide their sexuality because they know how it is perceived by society, and this simply reinforces the stereotypes, Dr Nay says.

Sex robots could support older people

Dr Jecker believes that sex robots are a “critically important” tool to support the sexuality of older people with disabilities.

“While often depicted as a product designed for younger, able-bodied people, this paper is a bid for reimagining sex robots as a product to support older adults with disabilities,” she writes.

Just as the sexuality of older people is often neglected by healthcare professionals, sex robots are not pitched to older people with disabilities, they are targeted at young, able-bodied, male customers.

But Dr Jecker says ‘sexbots’ for older people could not only help promote and maintain good physical and psychological health among older people, they could help counter ageist beliefs about older people’s sexuality.

She describes sexbots as “life-size machine entities with human-like appearance, movement, and behaviour, designed to interact with people in erotic and romantic ways… with capabilities ranging from simple verbal responses, to physical movements, to more advanced artificial intelligence.”

“Research demonstrates a positive correlation between general health and sexual partnership, frequency of sexual activity, good quality sex life, and interest in sex among middle-aged and older-aged adults,” Dr Jecker explains.

“With assistance, older adults can continue to be sexual in ways they value, including sustaining sexually intimate relationships, deriving pleasure from sexual activity, and preserving high-quality sexual lives.”

“Losing the ability to express sexual feelings through the body deprives older people of an important source of love and meaning… 

“When an older person’s body no longer does what they intend it to do, sex robots could intervene, enabling physical contact according to user specification. 

“Just as service robots are being designed to assist older individuals with functions such as eating, dressing and bathing, they might be designed to assist with social functions, serving as sources of affiliation and sexual partnership.”

Design for the male and female markets

Though Dr Nay expressed concerns about sexbots supporting the objectification of women or paedophilia, she said age shouldn’t be an issue when it comes to the development of sex toys.

Though not acquainted with sexbots specifically, Dr Nay said she imagines they would come with the same risks of other sex toys. “If not maintained and used correctly they could cause physical damage,” she warned.

“All technology comes with risks… You can get electrocuted by your hair dryer; any intimate object (or indeed person) can cause infections if proper hygiene is not maintained.”

However, sexbots would not be “as dangerous as some objects people get stuck in the vagina or anus/rectum like candles and crystal glasses,” she said.

Dr Nay also urged caution over the replacement of human connection. “Technology should support, not replace, human connection,” she told HelloCare.

Dr Nay also said she would like to see male sex bots as well as female. “Only female is sexist,” she said.

 

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