Dating is not just for the young, but for the young at heart. From speed dating events to online dating forums, senior dating sites are emerging and folks of all ages are seeking companionship.
As humans, we are wired for connection. Healthy partnering promotes healthy psychological, physical, social and spiritual wellness. As my 83-year-old client, Sally, who recently re-entered the dating scene, declared, “I am retired……not dead.”
There exists a plethora of research that discusses the benefits of being in healthy, nurturing relationships. The loss of a partnership, especially in a long-term relationship such as marriage, can be very traumatic (Matlin, 2009).
According to Caplan and Young (2010), dating following a loss (conjugal bereavement) may provide an opportunity to construct meaning about the past relationships while experiencing a new growth of self.
Successful adaptation following conjugal bereavement is related to successfully “making sense” of the situation and finding some “silver lining.” Further, re-partnering has been associated with a decrease in depressive symptoms and overall sense of wellness (Caplan & Young, 2010).
The Socioemotional Selectivity Theory suggests that as we age we become more specific about the people with whom we spend our time (Santrock, 2009). Cohort groups are decreasing and there is a potential for isolation and feelings of loneliness. Aiding our clients in re-connecting can provide a healthy outlet to socialization and community by promoting interaction and support.
As individuals age, the aging body becomes more invisible physically. Young bodies are objectified in the media, but older bodies are hidden.
We see this trend in the clothing historically assigned to the aging body that is intended to cover “imperfections.” This invisibility deprives people in knowing what older bodies are supposed to look like and how beauty and brawn may be experienced in older bodies (Bach, Mortimer, Vendeweerd, & Corvin, 2013).
As counselors, we can normalize and validate vulnerabilities around self-image and promote compassion toward the body that has accompanied the older client.
Sensory changes occur in aging that may result in some decrease in sensation (vision, hearing, touch, smell, taste etc.)
However, partnering provides a venue for physical expression. Holding hands, hugging, caressing, kissing and sexual intimacy all provide expression of sensuality and sexuality. Additionally, healthy partnering appears to be associated with lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, decrease in risk of diabetes and lower risk for some cancers (Bach, Mortimer, Vendeweerd, Corvin, 2013).
Most recently, research is finding that sexuality can serve as a pathway to the Transcendent (Mahoney, 2010, 2013) and relational spirituality forms a framework to examine the sexual narratives of healthy relationships.
Spirituality and religion have historically imposed rules regarding societal sanctioned behaviors and protocols with regard to sexual expression (Hernandez, Mahoney & Pargament, 2014).
These include with whom, when, what, where and how one may engage in sexual behavior.
However, embodied theology (an erotic experience of the Divine) suggests that sexuality contributes holistically to the human experience and serves as a “source for emotional and erotic connection, for intimacy, for passion, and transcendence” (Horn, Piedmont, Fialkowski, Wicks, & Hunt, 2005, p. 81).
Therefore, it is “through the sensuality of human sexuality (that includes but is not limited to genital sex) that individuals can experience a direct erotic connection with the God of one’s understanding” (Horn et al, 2005 p. 82).
As sensual-sexual beings, our clients may experience not only physical pleasure but spiritual wholeness in sexual expression (Hernandez et al, 2014).
Furthermore, studies have identified neurological similarities in the brain when experiencing deep meditation or sexual activity (Horn et al, 2005). Therefore, the connection between sexuality and spirituality is not merely psychological or metaphorical, it appears to share physicality and promotes holistic well-being…at any age!
Bach, L. E., Mortimer, J. A., VandeWeerd, C., & Corvin, J. (2013). The association of
physical and mental health with sexual activity in older adults in a retirement community
. Journal Of Sexual Medicine, 10(11), 2671-2678. doi:10.1111/jsm.12308
Caplan, S. & Young. D. G. (2010). Online dating and conjugal bereavement. Death Studies 34,
Hernandez, K. M., Mahoney, A., & Pargament, K. I. (2014). Sexuality and religion. In D. L.
Tolman, L. M. Diamond, J. A. Bauermeister, W. H. George, J. G. Pfaus, L. M. Ward, … L.
- Ward (Eds.) , APA handbook of sexuality and psychology, Vol. 2: Contextual
approaches (pp. 425-447). Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association.
Hernandez, K. M., Mahoney, A., & Pargament, K. I. (2011). Sanctification of sexuality:
Implications for newlyweds’ marital and sexual quality. Journal of Family Psychology,
25(5), 775-780. doi:10.1037/a0025103
Horn, M. J., Piedmont, R. L., Fialkowski, G. M., Wicks, R. J., & Hunt, M. E. (2005). Sexuality and spirituality: The embodied spirituality scale. Theology & Sexuality: The Journal of the Institute for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality, 12(1), 81-101. doi:10.1177/1355835805057788
Santrock, J. (2009). Life-span development. 12th edition.
Seniors Dating image via Shutterstock.