I’ll admit that I love the idea of getting older. Acquiring knowledge, watching the world evolve, seeing how my body and image shifts as I age are things I find fascinating. I’m not one who dreads getting older, I welcome it! So when I heard that the AARP recently released another sex survey: Sex, Romance, and Relationships: AARP Survey of Midlife and Older Adults, I was the definition of ecstatic!
AARP definitely knows what’s up. One of their pieces was about sexting being a hit with the over 50 crowd! This I find fascinating because with all the hype and laws about sexting, we often forget and assume older people are not engaging in such activities. I then realized AARP focused on and valued the lives of older Latinos and Caribbean people living in the US when they released their Hispanic Workers Survey, which found that Latinos work later in life and live on average 3 years longer than their peers; they make less pay even in older age; and older Latinos can help fill a void in the job market. I also knew they were after my heart when they interviewed Sheila E in their Spanish language magazine Segunda Juventud. That alone made me tell my parents to get on the AARP bus! But I really became a fan of their research in 2005 when they published: Sus vidas y amores… (Their Lives and Loves…) Latino Singles At Midlife and Beyond. I mean why would I be worried about aging with data and findings like this?!
In their latest research AARP has found that Latinos over the age of 45 have sex more frequently than their counterparts in other racial and ethnic categories, and there is only a very slight difference between genders (with people identifying as men reporting more sex). I wondered how they defined “sex” for respondents and I’m just going to assume they mean penetrative intercourse (anal or vaginal) even though this assumption leaves out an enormous amount of sexual activities people can have and experience together. I also think the survey may be heterosexist, and that is an area AARP can work on improving. However sex is defined, the Latino respondents reported being extremely happy with the quality (not just quantity) of their sex life with 56 percent of Latinos stating satisfaction in comparison to 43 percent of all other respondents. The finding on quality and quantity being a value made a great connection to the discovery that Latinos place more value on sexual intimacy.
Again, I still wonder how these terms are defined. What do people think “sexual intimacy” means? How is it different from non-sexual intimacy? What forms of affection would be on a list of such activities?
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One of the ways this question on intimacy was answered was in the finding that Latino partners display more affection with and to their sexual partners, which results in more sex. Who knew people would want and crave affection even as we age? What can we learn from this data about the work we do and the relationships our clients/students/patients share with us? How can we use these findings and apply them to the work we do with youth? How does this shift the conversations we may have about healing and coping from sexually transmitted infections, sexual assault, rape, infertility, and other devastating and/or challenging experiences?
That means more Latino people over the age of 45 are having more great sex! This makes me extremely happy. I think of the testimonio by my friend Patti Murillo-Casa, a cervical cancer survivor who shared how her sexual experiences with her partner have changed after her diagnosis for the better!
There are two areas that concern me: 1. how is this data going to reinforce stereotypes about Latinos being oversexualized and 2. how are researchers/doctors/sexologists/caregivers going to continue to reinforce tired (and wrong) gendered stereotypes about Latinos?
I realize that my concern over issue number 1 of reinforcing stereotypes of Latinos being oversexualized is really connected more to number 2, how people working with us and who believe they are “helping” us interpret the data. In reading some of the responses, Dr. Manuel Gomes a clinical psychologist and certified sex and marriage therapist has been quoted by AARP as saying:
“It’s important to note that Hispanics are not a homogeneous group,” says Manuel Gomes, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and founder of the Washington Institute for Intimacy and Sexual Health in Lynnwood, Washington. Salvadorans, Colombians, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Dominicans, and other groups respond differently to these questions—and responses would have been heavily influenced by where they were born and raised, what values their family emphasized, their religious beliefs or exposure, and their own individual situations concerning relationships. According to Gomes, survey findings may highlight the influence of cultural stereotypes.
Cool, I’m so down with challenging many of those cultural stereotypes. I like this Dr. Gomes! I’m going to look him up. But before I do I’m going to finish reading this article see what other kind of knowledge he has to drop. Then he drops this bomb:
“From a relational perspective, Hispanics value family and traditional gender roles. There is a complicated ambivalence of sexuality in Hispanics cultures where sexuality is openly valued and yet feminine virginity is promoted as well. This represents the duality of machismo and Roman Catholic influences.”
Can you hear my eyes roll? Haven’t we already been over this? What is it that we benefit from by projecting something that isn’t there onto people’s own comments, testimonies, narratives? Did the survey ask about virginity, Roman Catholic influence, or the big “m” word “machismo?” Oh, it didn’t? So then why are we talking about it if it’s not there? This I don’t understand. This is what causes me stress. This is why I do the work I do!
At the end of the day, are there others who are happy about these findings as I am? Is this research enough to alter and change the way we provide services and outreach to older populations? How can our work with people who have different abilities be informed by this research?