Life starts at forty, is now a pretty clichéd one-liner and we have been told so on numerous occasions and pretexts. Yet, many of us feel uncomfortable at the idea of sexuality amongst elderly couples. Adult sexuality remains a controversial topic all over the world and awareness on this issue continues to be very low.

That said, some severe initiatives are being taken and dialogues initiated to clear the air about this very essential and pertinent topic. Dr Tuuli Kukkonen, a clinical psychologist, assistant professor, and director of the psychophysiology of sexual health laboratory at the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, in her talk at a TEDx event, raised some very pertinent questions on adult sexuality and sex life.

Challenging the very root of the bias which revolves around the belief that sex is only for younger couples of reproductive age group, Dr. Kukkonen, cites from her research, showing adult couples in the age group 75-89 years, sharing nuggets of their active sex lives. This includes having sex once a week for some and twice to thrice a month for others. The very idea of limiting sexuality to the exclusively elite set of individuals within the reproductive age group - actually leaves a vast majority of individuals in sheer sexless-ness and loveless-ness for decades?

In her talk, Dr Kukkonen also obliterates the other major misconception prevalent amongst the younger population, i.e. adults over 50 years are too old to be interested in sex. Dr Kukkonen’s very emphatically shows an entirely different picture. She shows how adult couples spontaneously participated in her research project and got their sexual responses and arousal levels mapped. The mapping of such responses produced even more surprising results when it was found that sexual arousal levels (high, low or medium) among couples of varied age group, right from 18 years to 89 years, remained independent of age.

Normalising and promoting adult sexuality is a collective societal responsibility of doctors, researchers, sex-educationists, elderly adults and of every single citizen. In many cases, physicians are seen avoiding discourses on sex with their aged-adult patients. Dr Kukkonen’s research also shows adults in the age group of 66-90 years admitting that they are never asked about their sex life by their physicians which gives them the feeling that it is improper to ask about sexual issues after a certain age. This is in direct contradiction with what the World Health Organisation says about sexual health. According to WHO sexual health is not just about sexual issues like erectile dysfunction or premature ejaculation but very much about sexual pleasure and greater life satisfaction as well as relationship satisfaction.

Dr Kukkonen shares a fascinating insight in this regard. She says that the participants of her research project, many of whom are in 75 to 85 years of age group, shared that they engage in sex, in spite of having sexual dysfunctions and other physical health conditions. The fact that despite challenges, individuals still engage in sexual activity, proves that sexual urges are actually age agnostic. It is about time we develop a positive approach towards the sexuality of individuals irrespective of age and respect sexual rights of everyone throughout their lifespan. This change must start with us, and we must begin to be comfortable with having sex after 50 and also with discussing it openly amongst peer and with our doctors.

With higher life expectancy now being a fact, this is all the more necessary. Interestingly, promotion of active ageing is very much in vogue now, and we see a lot of awareness and enthusiasm amongst older adults on exercising, healthy living and healthy eating. But there still exists a dire lack in active sexuality after 50 or say 60 years of age, even though sexuality is deeply connected with overall well being of individuals at any age.

It is now time we gracefully wake up to the fact that sex does not end after procreation but continues across the lifespan even till the ninth decade. All that is required to experience the sense of transcendence during sexual activity at any point of time include - being faithful to the partner by being fully and intimately involved in the act,

-deep bonding during sexual intimacy,

-courage to explore and to be vulnerable in the relationship,

-and having impeccable communication with each other.

NASA is planning a human mission to Mars by 2037, and here we are, being aghast at the very basic instinct of humans, i.e. sex! If that is not enough, let me remind you that the founder of Playboy magazine, Hugh Hefner, announced his third marriage to 24-year-old Crystal Harris at the age of 84.

Now Keep calm and man up!!