One of the most neglected areas of sexuality education is with older adults. Stereotypes about sexuality and aging are pervasive in our culture – from assumptions to asexuality being an inherent part of the aging process to not needing to discuss safer sex choices, the dominant United States culture sweeps older adults’ sexuality entirely under the rug.
Personally, I have very little experience working directly with older adults around sexuality. And so I’ve been excited to crack open Older, Wiser, Sexually Smarter and have a look at best practice education in the field. Today seems an ideal day to do just that because Bill Taverner, the Center for Sex Education’s Executive Director, is in Oregon speaking on sexuality and aging.
Thumbing through the table of contents, the lesson titled Skin Hunger jumped out at me. I talk about skin hunger so much of the time – it’s a deeply seated need that humans have – and conversation and awareness about it are so desperately lacking. So here are the objectives and rationale behind that lesson:
Skin Hunger: Everyone Needs Touch
By Brick, Lundqist, Sandak, and Taverner
1. Identify the physiological benefits of touch.
2. Discuss cultural messages that affect our attitudes about touch.
3. Experience giving and receiving a massage of the hand.
“Skin like a cloak, covers us all over, the oldest and the most sensitive of our organs, our first medium of communication…” writes Ashley Montagu as he begins his book, Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin. Throughout our lives the need for touch sends us searching for satiation. Although the skin shows the most visible signs of aging — wrinkling, spotting, pigment changes, dryness, and loss of elasticity — our need for touch does not diminish. If anything, it tends to increase. This lesson explores the need for and benefits of loving touch throughout life.
What a beautiful quote to set the mood for a lesson. I am a poet somewhere deep under my rough sex educator exterior, and a beautiful idea broad forth in vivid language breathes warmth and forgiveness into some part of me in the way that loving touch soothes the skin. Both kinds of attention are healthy, beautiful, and reach far beyond their respective primary targets (the brain and the skin).
This lesson includes stories and discussion around touch across the lifespan – and then brings the point home in a very concrete way by inviting people who feel comfortable to give and receive hand massages. Such a beautiful and simple kind of touch. I love it.