Preliminary results of the coding of the sex educational literature and websites indicate that sexual advice geared to older adults tends to assume heteronormativity and monogamy, and to focus on physical problems, but rarely on disease risk. Readers/users are assured they can achieve satisfying sex lives regardless of age, primarily via the development of communication skills. Even as these resources acknowledge that medical professionals handle sexual issues inadequately, one of the primary recommendations they advocate is that people with serious problems seek psychological or medical expertise.
Our second set of discourse analyses examines general medical, gynecological, urological, and therapeutic/psychological professional journals to see how (and how often) medical researchers discuss sexual issues with regard to older adults. The scant research that does exist on this subject indicates that providers tend to avoid discussions of sex with older adults, despite the fact that sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise among this (growing) population in the U.S. Providers’ lack of communication is fueled by ageist notions about older adults as uninterested or incapable of sexual activity.
Our ultimate goals are to examine: the barriers to, facilitators of, and best practices for effective communication with older adults about sexual subjects. We envision these projects to be part of a larger research agenda about health communication, sexual health and older adults. We hope to utilize our findings to design interventions that could improve providers’ communication skills in this area.