Body image, sex and dating

When people spoke about their body image, there was more self-acceptance of their body and its flaws as they grew older. People disliked some of the physical changes to their body as they aged, such as a widow’s hump, wrinkles, grey hair or extra weight but these were largely seen as part of the ageing process.

Nora Lee has been more comfortable with her body since her 50s.

Helen B found her body has changed shape as she has grown older. She has lost the confidence to sew her own clothes because it is harder to get them to fit nicely.

Some people were not overly concerned with their appearance, as long as they were neat and tidy. Others felt they needed to make an effort to look their best, either for themselves or for their partner. No participants said they had cosmetic surgery, although Helen W had considered it.

Kaye does not like what age has done to her body but she does not let it bother her. She makes an effort to look the best she can and gets on with enjoying the day.

After her divorce, Helen W considered cosmetic surgery. She was put off by the long operation and high cost and decided on permanent makeup instead.

Rebecca thinks it is important to look after yourself no matter what your age because if you feel good others will see you in the same light.

When discussing sex in their older years, those in long-term relationships said it was not as important as it was in their younger years. There are other forms of intimacy and the relationship becomes more about companionship. This was particularly the case if people had health problems which affected their sexual function.

Sex is not as important to Marjorie as it used to be. She now values the companionship of her marriage.

Chester believes you can still have a sexual life when you are older, but making love now is more spiritual.

Some women who were in their 60s and divorced spoke about the importance of sex in new relationships and their newfound libido after menopause. Some women were happy to have a casual sex partner while others wanted an intimate relationship first.

Nora Lee lost interest in sex when she was going through menopause. Now that she is in her 60s, she does not have to worry about birth control or body shape.

Margaret believes that coming through menopause is a positive aspect of ageing and that men should take this into account.

Sabihe thinks it would be nice to have a companion but finds most men are just looking for sex.

Marlene points out that sex amongst older people is often a taboo subject, both in Australian society and within families. She found the SBS Insight program on sex and older Australians very interesting. Talking about sex amongst older people may be even more sensitive in other cultures and for some people with strong religious beliefs.

Marlene has found people do not want to think about older people having sex. Because of the rising rate of sexually transmitted infections in older people, she believes it is important to discuss the issues.

Working as an interpreter and nurse, Sabihe has found some religious people are reluctant to talk about sex. She emphasises that sex is normal and that it should be treated with respect not shame.

Elaine M explains that when a couple gets older the husband’s role is to comfort and protect his wife. When Yolngu women get older they focus on being a mother and grandmother and are respected for this.

After being widowed or divorced it was common for participants to be happy being single or being just friends with people of the opposite sex. Some women did not want to give up their independence or have to look after a man, while men tended to say they were not confident talking to women or did not want to get emotionally involved.

After losing his wife Brian E finds it difficult to talk to new people. He is much more comfortable with his male friends.

Denis does not feel comfortable dating women, he does not want to get emotionally involved.

Other participants were looking for a serious relationship and were proactive about it. Margaret found internet dating websites to be useful, while Chester met his partner and soul mate at a conference.

Margaret enjoyed internet dating but found most men just wanted sex. She is now looking for a more serious relationship.

Chester’s partner was proactive about asking him out. Chester is now happy to have found his soul mate.