Sex Addiction Among Seniors: What You Need To Know
It was probably the question heard around the world that day.
“Ozzy Osbourne has a sex addiction?”
Yes, says the metal rocker, who revealed in August of this year that he is undergoing “intense treatment” for a condition he’s had for six years.
Sex addiction is estimated to affect more than 30 million people in the US, according to MedicineNet.com, which says the hypersexual disorder “involves the sufferer becoming excessively preoccupied with thoughts or behaviors that give a desired sexual effect.”
People with sex addiction use sex as a way to ease anxiety, depression, loneliness, pain, stress, and other emotional burdens they may carry into their golden years. Often, with sex addiction, as with other addictions, people act on impulse and engage in intimate activities that could cost them their health, job, families, friends, peace of mind, and eventually their lives.
For Ozzy, it nearly cost him his 34-year marriage to his wife, Sharon. “I thank God that my incredible wife is at my side to support me,” he said in a statement.
Ozzy, whose substance abuse has been well-documented, surprised some people with his sex addiction confession. The heavy metal icon, regarded as among the most famous recovering addicts in music history, is now 67 years old as he closes in on a career spanning at least 50 years.
But is his sex addiction surprising because people thought his addiction battles were finally behind him? Or is it because he is still sexually active at his age?
Trading One Addiction for Another
In May of this year, Ozzy told the press, “I have been sober for three and a quarter years, I have not touched drugs or alcohol in that time. Any reports that I am not sober are completely inaccurate.” after rumors surfaced that his marriage was in trouble because he’d had a relapse.
So, why would a person who has been sober for several years find himself battling a sex addiction?
For someone in recovery from substance abuse, relapse is never far behind. In Ozzy’s case, it’s possible he could have traded one addiction for another, especially after years of addiction to drugs and alcohol; it’s something that happens.
An inability to resist acting on impulse is a sign of addictive personality disorder, which, according to psychologist Stephen Mason, Ph.D., affects 10 to 15 percent of the population. In a Psychology Today article, he wrote that people with this disorder “simply don’t know when to stop.”
Yep, Seniors Are Having Sex
If people were shocked to learn of Ozzy’s sex addiction because of his age, then a look at the data explains why it shouldn’t be a surprise.
It’s no secret that some of America’s estimated 76.4 million baby boomers are sexually active. A person’s sex drive doesn’t disappear when the AARP card arrives in the mail, and some people are having sexual relationships well into their 70s, 80s, and beyond.
A MedicalDaily article highlighted a study published in the February 2015 edition of the Archives of Sexual Behavior that surveyed 6,201 men and women between the ages of 50 and 90 about their sexual activity.
“While around 31 percent of men and 20 percent of women reported kissing and petting on a regular basis, an upward of 54 percent of men and 31 percent of women also reported having sex at least twice a month,” the article said of the study’s findings.
Age Doesn’t Protect Anyone Against Diseases
The need to practice safe sex also doesn’t disappear with age either. But older adults who engage in unsafe sex are walking a fine line. If they are not careful, they can find themselves dealing with issues they may be hesitant to talk about, unable to talk about for lack of awareness, or aren’t asked about because their doctor assumes they don’t have a sex life.
Finding data for how many of those with sexual addiction fall into the senior category is hard to pin down. But today’s sexually liberated baby boomers who helped define the sexual revolution way back when may need a refresher on how the birds and bees operate in today’s world.
Medical Daily recently reported on a study that illustrates just how unsafe sex can be among older consenting adults. University of Portland researchers studying condom usage and risky sex practices among men ages 60 to 84 discovered that those older than age 60 who pay for sex are doing it more frequently. But they aren’t doing it safely because they aren’t using condoms.
Among the study’s findings are:
Nearly 60 percent said they don’t always use protection with sex workers
Ninety-five percent said they avoided protection for manual masturbation
Ninety-one percent said they avoided protection for oral sex
“As these men got older, the likelihood of them using a condom declined. Rates of unprotected sex skyrocketed among 29.2 percent of the men who reported having an ‘all-time favorite’ sex provider. Men who reported more unprotected sex were also more likely to be diagnosed with an STD,” the article says.
Researchers conducting the study also found that older adults surveyed did not understand the risks of unprotected sex. According to a Medscape article, some senior adults do not protect themselves against HIV and other STDs because:
- Postmenopausal women aren’t concerned about getting pregnant.
- Many older adults believe STDs were diseases that “happened to someone else” since they married when safe sex was encouraged in the 1980s.
- Older adults grew up in a time when men decided whether to wear a condom or not, so if the man decides not to wear one, then one is not worn.
- Women are willing to remain unprotected based on male preference since men have their pick of partners to choose from.
“Older people who are sexually active may be at risk for diseases such as syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydial infection, genital herpes, hepatitis B, genital warts, and trichomoniasis. Almost anyone who is sexually active is also at risk of being infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The number of older people with HIV/AIDS is growing,” says the National Institute on Aging, which warns that age does not protect anyone against sexually transmitted diseases.
Hiv Diagnoses, Stds Rates Up, Data Show
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in 2012, people age 55 and older accounted for nearly one-quarter of the estimated 1.2 million people who were living with the HIV infection in the US that year. Also for that year, people age 50 and older accounted for 18 percent (8,575) of an estimated 47,352 HIV diagnoses in the US. The largest number of the group, at 44 percent, or 3,747, were among those aged 50 to 54.
Sexually transmitted diseases are rising among people who are age 65-plus, according to the CDC’s 2011 data. Its report says that between the years 2007 and 2011, chlamydia rates rose 31 percent, and syphilis cases increased 52 percent.
Increased risks of these diseases have been linked to weakened immune systems and menopausal changes in women. Signs of an STD can look like signs of aging, which increases the possibility of them going undetected during medical screenings and therefore untreated.
Do Alcohol, Drugs Play a Role?
It is unclear in the data and study mentioned above if alcohol and/or drugs were involved in the sexual activity that resulted in the HIV and STD cases or the older men’s decision to have unprotected sex. However, it’s possible that substances could have played a role in some of those cases based on suggestions of past studies exploring the link between substance abuse and sexual behavior.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, a number of past studies have suggested there is a connection between substance use and sexual behavior, which has been identified as, “a key element in the transmission of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and AIDS.”
The institute also quotes research, saying, “The use of alcohol or other drugs has been proposed as a contributing factor to sexual risk-taking. Because alcohol and drugs are thought to interfere with judgment and decision-making, it has been suggested that their use in conjunction with sexual activity might increase the probability that risky behavior will occur.”
So, it’s possible that mind-altering, mood-altering substances can lead one to make unsafe decisions. But could some of those outcomes be linked to dementia in older sexually active people?
Sex and Dementia
Sexual activity in the senior stage of life could increasingly become part of the conversation about aging as the population faces the possibility of acquiring Alzheimer’s disease or some form of dementia as it gets older.
According to the World Health Organization, “the number of people living with dementia worldwide is estimated to be at 47.5 million and is projected to increase to 75.6 million by 2030. The number of cases of dementia is estimated to more than triple by 2050. Much of this increase is attributable to the rising numbers of people with dementia living in low- and middle-income countries.”
As some people with dementia age, their interest in sex declines, but according to an article on the site BottomLineInc, some people with the condition could develop hypersexual disorders that cause them to act out in sexually inappropriate ways. These include masturbating or stripping in public or engaging in touching others in an inappropriate way. Dementia has been known to impair older people’s judgment and they might not always be aware of what they are doing.
People who have healthy sexual habits could still act out at inappropriate times as well, a behavior also linked to dementia.
Douglas Wornell, MD, a medical director with the Behavioral Wellness Center at Auburn Regional Medical Center in Auburn, Wash., told BottomLineInc that an estimated 7 percent to 20 percent of dementia patients develop problematic sexual behaviors. The reasons for this vary.
“Some patients experience normal sexual drives, but at inappropriate times or places, while others experience hyperarousal. They become fixated on the act and can’t be redirected, so they constantly try to get their partners to have sex or make inappropriate advances toward others.”
According to an article on Governing.com, only 13 percent of 175 long-term care facilities surveyed train their staff to handle sexual behavior among seniors, according to a 2013 AMDA survey. Much of the spread of STDs and STIs happen in retirement communities or facilities that house older people.
“The population in retirement communities now, they grow up in a time when sex education wasn’t always mandatory, but they need it just as much as anyone else. They don’t always have a perception of how risky their behaviors can be,” Maggie Syme, an assistant professor at Kansas State University’s Center on Aging, told Governing.com
Baby boomer Ozzy Osbourne hasn’t entered the nursing home just yet, but getting a hold on his sex addiction before he hits age 70 is something he decided to do now for him and his family.
Ozzy’s wife, Sharon, told her co-hosts on a recent episode of The Talk, “He’s working at it. It’s hard because it affects the whole family and it’s quite embarrassing. … I’m proud that he’s come out and admitted it, finally.”
It’s difficult to predict how many people will face similar addictions, whether it involves drugs, alcohol, sex, or food, among other things, in their senior years. Some will continue to test the limits and attempt to relive their youthful days, abusing drugs and alcohol and engaging in risky sex and other unsafe behaviors.
Research shows these challenges are expected to only grow as the nation’s population ages. But there is education and treatment available to help senior adults overcome their battles inside and outside of the bedroom, and that’s a good place to start.
We’re Here to Help
Substance abuse among the aging and elderly often go unnoticed or undiagnosed, especially in longtime drug and/or alcohol users. If you, or someone you know, have an older parent, spouse, or another family member, friend, or someone else you are concerned about who is an older person battling addiction, call (866) 804-6507 now to speak with one of our Palm Beach Institute specialists. They can help you find a treatment program tailored to your specific needs today. They are standing by around the clock, waiting for your call.