Sex, Love, and Aging at Home: Dating for Older Adults

We’ve seen a spike in stories about sex in nursing homes over the last few years—and they always have titillating headlines, almost designed to induce a giggle, as if the thought of romance and intimacy post-retirement was something out of a corny 80s sitcom.

Dating for Older Adults in San FranciscoWe’ve seen a spike in stories about sex in nursing homes over the last few years—and they always have titillating headlines, almost designed to induce a giggle, as if the thought of romance and intimacy post-retirement was something out of a corny 80s sitcom.
These stories miss the point—they focus on grabbing attention or the shock value, rather than on real relationships and intimacy. They also ignore the growing population of aging adults who continue to live at home. Entering new relationships away from the self-selecting population at nursing homes can be fraught with emotional peril, especially if you’ve been led to believe that it is somehow ridiculous to desire a new relationship at an older age. But people can find love, intimacy, and physical pleasure at any stage of life: you just have to know what you want and feel confident enough to go after it.

Understanding Relationships as You Age

Byron. Rimbaud. Yeats. The great Romantic poets always emphasized youth and vitality as the keys to love—a sort of earthy virility that could only exist in the bosom of first bloom. And that’s been the social trend for hundreds of years; but what do we do with the fact that modern life expectancy has more than doubled since Keats’ day? Now that people are, on average, living longer, the idea of entering a new relationship past middle age has become more appealing and much more prevalent. Think of a woman who loses her husband at 63. She could reasonably expect to live another 20-30 years—that would be more than a quarter of her life spent potentially alone. Yet, society has tended to discourage entering into new relationships at her age.
However, as I mentioned in a previous interview, “Connections are what bind us to life. We need to break through these barriers that insist that intimacy and sexuality is only the terrain of younger people.” Loneliness is a major cause of depression, and even suicide. Feeling that loneliness is to be expected because of society’s ideals is a terrible precedent. Older adults do not need to accept these relationship norms if they don’t want to—it’s all about choice and independence.

The Challenges of Dating When Living At Home

Of course, deciding that you are ready to “get out there” isn’t always easy for older adults. There is the most commonly assumed reason of embarrassment over diminished sexual capacity, but also the same, very human, reasons that you may have felt in high school or after a mid-life divorce: it’s intimidating to meet people and to put yourself out there, proof that some things about relationships never change. If you are aging at home, as opposed to in a care or retirement facility, it can be even more difficult to meet someone new, though there are ways.
Online dating is a very popular choice. This seems like the ultimate “young person” activity, but it absolutely is not. Online dating can be a fun and safe way to meet people in your age group, who have similar interests, without having to “go out to a bar,” or some similar clichéd rendezvous spot. If you need help with the basics of getting online, ask a caregiver, family member, or attend a program to help seniors improve their digital literacy. There doesn’t need to be any stigma attached to dating online, so please don’t feel embarrassed to ask for some guidance.
Of course, when it comes to online dating, we always advise older adults to be thoughtful and honest when creating their profiles. Waiting for someone to respond to your messages may trigger anxiety—and rejection can be devastating at any age. As a fairly new way of meeting people—and much different than bumping into someone at a friend’s barbecue or a church social—there is no guidebook for this experience. Bringing a sense of patience to the process, and understanding that it is only one way to socialize, may help ease any stress and make the online dating world seem more relaxed and fun. And, if engaging with dating websites is triggering depression, anxiety or despair, it is important to speak with family, friends, or a professional about your feelings.
In addition to, or perhaps instead of online dating, there are also local social activities. Even if you aren’t looking to date, social isolation can be a literal killer. There are a lot of groups, classes, and events specifically designed for older adults, including ones sponsored by the city or organizations like IOA. There are also informal activities, like Tai Chi, cooking classes, or tours that are planned with seniors in mind—all great ways to meet people who share your interests while minimizing the pressures of “dating.”

Find Your Personal Happiness

None of this is to say that there won’t be challenges—relationships will always have their difficulties, perhaps especially as you age. For instance, gender imbalance plays a role in dating for older adults—according to some studies, after the age of 70 there is a 4:1 female to male ratio. But these difficulties can be overcome with a little confidence, patience, and positivity.
Don’t fall prey to stereotypes about yourself or others. Yes, there are older men who are looking for younger women, just as there are older women looking for younger men. But there are also many who are looking for a companion to understand them, one who is at the same stage in life. It may help you to remember that everyone dating is in the same boat: they all may be struggling with fear of what society thinks, unwarranted shame at lowered physical capabilities or nerves about what their children will have to say about their relationship status. Chances are, most people you date will be having the same insecurities.
As with any fear, those surrounding dating as an older adult can only be conquered by stepping out of your comfort zone and getting back out there. If you feel ready to date, have a relationship, share physical intimacy—or even have a one-night stand—that is your right, at any age. The same rules apply to you as they do to younger people: be smart, be safe, and be respectful of the other person. No one questions whether a young person should have the companionship they desire, and it shouldn’t be questioned in older adults either. Regardless of age, we all have the capacity for great love.
At Institute on Aging, we work with older adults, their caregivers, and their families to understand the challenges and joys of aging. Connect with us to learn more about our programs.

Dr. Patrick Arbore

Dr. Patrick Arbore

Related Posts


Give our dedicated Client Service Specialists a call. We are ready to help.

Follow Us

As we approach the end of #SocialWorkMonth, Institute on Aging would like to take a moment to recognize and celebrate the incredible work being done by all of our Community Living Fund and HomeSafe social workers.

These dedicated professionals have shown unwavering commitment to providing exceptional care to clients and building strong, vibrant communities. We are consistently impressed by the passion and expertise they bring to their work and their ability to connect with clients in meaningful ways. Our CLF and HomeSafe social workers have risen to this challenge time and time again, going above and beyond to support the individuals and families they serve.

At Institute on Aging, we are grateful every day for our social work teams' hard work and dedication. We want to extend our heartfelt thanks to these outstanding professionals for all they do to make a difference in our clients' and communities' lives. You truly embody the spirit of social work, and we are honored to have you as part of our team.

#ThankYou #SocialWork #Appreciation #SocialWorkers #Gratitude #SocialWorkerAppreciation
Sophia became a part of the Community Living Fund team in December 2022, joining at a critical time when additional coverage was required for certain cases. Additionally, CLF was in the process of introducing a new assessment and implementing CalAim services for San Francisco members.

Sophia has been an essential contributor to these ongoing initiatives while effectively managing a caseload of Intensive Case Management (ICM) clients. We were thrilled to receive positive feedback about her support for the TRCS program, which demonstrates her dedication to the agency's mission. CLF is grateful to have a Case Manager like Sophia, who is passionate about serving San Francisco's vulnerable population.

#SocialWorkMonth #WeAppreciateyou #ThankYou #SupportatHome #CaseManager #SocialWorkerAppreciation
Three and a half years ago, Maggie Fang started her journey as an Assessment Specialist in the Support at Home Program at IOA. Her excellent people skills enabled her to manage a caseload of older adults and individuals with disabilities, helping them receive homecare to age in place. Maggie was selected to pioneer the Temporary Respite Caregiver Support program, and we are delighted to have such a skilled and dedicated individual leading our newest program at IOA. Thank you, Maggie, for your exceptional work! 

#SocialWorkMonth #WeAppreciateyou #ThankYou #SupportatHome #CaseManager #SocialWorkerAppreciation
Join us at the Adult Day Program at the Enrichment Center as Caregiver Coach Alex shares with us the incredible support and care provided to participants living with dementia. Clients enjoy various engaging activities, from music therapy to art classes, designed to stimulate their cognitive and physical abilities. The skilled staff at the Enrichment Center also provides caregivers with much-needed support and respite, allowing them to take a break and attend to their needs. If you or someone you know is looking for support in caring for a loved one with dementia, the Adult Day Program at the Enrichment Center in the Presidio is an excellent resource for you! 

Learn more by visiting the link in our bio! 

#DementiaCare #EnrichmentCenter #AdultDayProgram #CaregiverSupport #Presidio #Dementia #Memory #Caregiver