Intimacy and sexuality


The need for intimacy does not stop because you are getting older. Sexual intimacy provides warmth, excitement, closeness, and touch, which is good for your wellbeing and quality of life. The ways of being intimate with a partner as you get older may change but are still important for fulfilling your needs.

Affection and intimacy are an important aspect of wellbeing. While age may limit your ability to express your sexual desires, promoting intimacy with affectionate acts such as holding hands, hugging, and intimate touch can help fulfil some of your intimacy needs. Open communication with your partner about barriers to your sexual expression such as medication side effects, illness, mood, or lack of opportunity will help you understand what other intimate acts can fulfil both of your needs.

Even if you are no longer fertile it is important to continue practicing safe sex, especially if you have more than one partner. You can help protect yourself and your partner from sexually transmitted infections by using condoms or dental dams. If you are experiencing erectile dysfunction, you can find more information in Men’s Health.

Although not often discussed, older people are still sexual beings with the same desires and rights as the rest of the population. If you live in an aged care facility, you can still fulfil your needs for intimacy and affection. Facility policies and the use of a person-centred approach are beginning to recognise the intimacy needs of older people, especially as care facilities are recognised as the person’s home. Massey University research is working to change the guidelines and perspectives in place about intimacy in care homes, which can be read here. Information on intimacy with people living with dementia can be found through Health Central.

The Rainbow Community

Ageing as an LGBTTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Takatāpui, Queer, Intersex, Asexual) person can come with complex problems not experienced by heterosexual people (people who are attracted to the opposite sex) and cisgender people (people whose gender identity and assigned sex at birth are the same). Historical homophobia and struggles for equality may make it difficult for an LGBTTQIA+ person to reach out or access the resources they need as they age. Reluctance to access the help they need or to move into a retirement community for fear of discrimination are some of the major concerns voiced by people in the older LGBTTQIA+ community.

It is illegal in New Zealand to discriminate against anyone, including because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This means that healthcare and services for older people must be accessible and indiscriminate toward LGBTTQIA+ people. The Human Rights Act 1993 protects you from discrimination in any form.

If you are considering aged care or moving into a retirement community, you can inquire about the support they can offer you. The Silver Rainbow programme offers workshops for aged care workers to understand how to best support members of the LGBTTQIA+ community.

Websites of interest

  • This article from The Conversation discusses how intimacy may change as you get older
  • Massey University have released a recent study on the understanding of consent, intimacy, and sexuality in residential aged care
  • For information about practicing safe sex, visit Family Planning
  • For New Zealand resources on LGBTQ+ issues, check the Miscellaneous website
  • If you are LGBTQ+ and are living with dementia, visit the New Zealand Dementia Foundation for resources