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What getting intimate at 60 really means

Most people assume getting saucy under the sheets it just for the young, but what about the young at heart?

By Ashley Macleod and Marita McCabe

Sexuality encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction and what we think, feel and believe about them. It has been a research focus for over a hundred years, and highlighted as an important part of the human experience. Since the first studies on human sexuality in the 1940s, research has consistently demonstrated that sexual interest and activity are sustained well into old age. However, only a fraction of the research has explored sexuality in the later years of life.

Most of the early research on sexuality and ageing looked at the sexual behaviours and biology of older adults, generally ignoring the wider concept of sexuality. When researchers did discuss sexuality more broadly, many referred to sexuality as the domain of the young, and emphasised this was a major barrier to the study of sexuality in older adults.

Sexuality in later life ignored

Towards the end of the 20th century, research expanded to include attitudes towards sexual expression in older adults, and the biological aspects of sexuality and ageing. Consistently, the research showed sexual expression is possible for older adults, and sustained sexual activity into old age is more likely for those who had active sex lives earlier in life.

By the late 1980s, there was a strong focus on the biological aspects of ageing. This expanded to include the reasons behind sexual decline. The research found these were highly varied and many older adults remain sexually active well into later life.

But despite evidence adults continue to desire and pursue sexual expression well into later life, both society in general and many health professionals have inadvertently helped perpetuate the myth of the asexual older person. This can happen through an unintentional lack of recognition, or an avoidance of a topic that makes some people uncomfortable.

Why does this matter?

These ageist attitudes can have an impact on older adults not only in their personal lives, but also in relation to their health needs. Examples include the failure of medical personnel to test for sexually transmissible infections in older populations, or the refusal of patients to take prescribed medications because of adverse impacts on erection rigidity. We need more health practitioners to be conscious of and incorporate later life sexuality into the regular health care of older adults. We still have a long way to go.

By ignoring the importance of sexuality for many older adults, we fail to acknowledge the role that sexuality plays in many people’s relationships, health, well-being and quality of life. Failure to address sexual issues with older patients may lead to or exacerbate marital problems and result in the withdrawal of one or both partners from other forms of intimacy. Failure to discuss sexual health needs with patients can also lead to incorrect medical diagnoses, such as the misdiagnosis of dementia in an older patient with HIV.

It’s not about ‘the deed’ itself

In a recent survey examining sexuality in older people, adults aged between 51 and 89 were asked a series of open-ended questions about sexuality, intimacy and desire, and changes to their experiences in mid-life and later life. This information was then used to create a series of statements that participants were asked to group together in ways they felt made sense, and to rank the importance of each statement.

The most important themes that emerged from the research encompassed things such as partner compatibility, intimacy and pleasure, and factors that influence the experience of desire or the way people express themselves sexually. Although people still considered sexual expression and sexual urges to be important, they were not the focus for many people over 45.

Affectionate and intimate behaviours, trust, respect and compatibility were more important aspects of sexuality than intercourse for most people. Overall, the message was one about the quality of the experience and the desire for connection with a partner, and not about the frequency of sexual activities.

People did discuss barriers to sexual expression and intimacy such as illness, mood or lack of opportunity or a suitable partner, but many felt these were not something they focused on in their own lives. This is in line with the data that shows participants place a greater importance on intimacy and affectionate behaviours such as touching, hugging and kissing, rather than intercourse.

These results help us challenge the existing stereotype of the “asexual older person” and the idea intercourse is necessary to be considered sexually active. They also make it clear researchers and health practitioners need to focus on a greater variety of ways we can improve the experience and expressions of sexuality and intimacy for adults from mid-life onwards beyond medical interventions (like Viagra) that focus on prolonging or enhancing intercourse.

Complete Article HERE!

Happy in a low-sex marriage

By Nara Schoenberg

For many writers, it would have been an occasion to celebrate: Hazel McClay’s book group had chosen to read an anthology containing an essay that McClay herself had written.

But McClay’s essay was about being happy in a low-sex relationship, a sensitive topic in a culture where intense desire is widely celebrated. Hazel McClay is a pen name, so no one in her book group knew that she was the author; in fact, she hadn’t talked about her essay with anyone — not even her boyfriend, who had since become her husband. “This should be interesting,” she thought when she learned she would be hearing her book group’s unfiltered feedback, and so it was.

First, McClay sat through the comments of a woman who seemed to think the essay was a celebration of sexual relationships that start awkwardly but improve markedly over time. The woman explained — in some detail — that this had been her own experience with her husband.

An awkward silence followed, and when no one came to the speaker’s rescue, she turned back to the essay.

“This sounds like a wonderful relationship,” she said.

“Sounds like a boring relationship to me,” another woman said, and then she and her friend burst out laughing.

McClay, whose essays appear in the recent book “The Bitch Is Back: Older, Wiser, and (Getting) Happier” and the 2002 best-seller “The Bitch in the House,” is tackling one of the few remaining taboo topics in a time of marked sexual frankness. We have respectful news articles about the polyamorous, who openly engage in multiple romantic relationships, and we have blogs and Facebook pages for asexuals, who may have no interest in sex at all. A popular reality TV show, “Sister Wives,” tells the story of a man with multiple wives. But low-sex marriages that are neither unhappy nor dishonest? When was the last time you heard about one of those?

“It really is something under the radar,” said McClay, a writer and editor in her early 50s.

“There is a bit of shame attached to it because there’s kind of a pressure to be highly sexed and highly performing sexually in this culture. And so if you’re not, that’s considered to be a problem.”

A much-quoted 2016 study in the journal Social and Psychological Personality Science found that, on average, couples in romantic relationships who have sex once a week are happier than couples who have sex less frequently. (Having sex more than once a week wasn’t associated with additional happiness.)

But the study looked at averages; it didn’t rule out the possibility that some individuals are very happy in low-sex marriages.

About 40 percent of married couples in part of the study were having sex, but less than once a week, co-author ‪Amy Muise said in an email exchange.

Asked what percentage of that group reported being very happy, Muise said she hadn’t broken down the data in that manner.

In “The Bitch Is Back,” McClay writes that she and her husband, “Charlie,” laugh a lot, love each other deeply, and have a son who’s thriving.

“With Charlie,” she writes, “I felt, and still feel, like somebody in the world gets me; I feel, at the risk of sounding cliched, loved for exactly who I am. This is something that was missing in every relationship I had before him, including the ones that were filled with sexual passion. … Within weeks of meeting him, I loved him — his brain, his quirks, his humor, and the grounded way he made me feel. I still do.”

They don’t have sex often: at this point, once a month at most. When they do, she’s always glad, but for different reasons: Sometimes because the sex itself is really good, sometimes because she knows sex is important to her husband, even though he doesn’t press the issue or seem dissatisfied.

“I never crave sex,” she writes, “so if I never had it again, I don’t think I’d miss it. If I never had another brownie, now, that would bum me out.”

McClay does have her fleeting moments of self-doubt. At one point, she writes, she tried medication to increase her sex drive; it didn’t work. And there have been rare times when she’s missed feeling the kind of intense passion that makes “your bones seem to melt away underneath your skin.”

“I know that there are women out there who think that (a marriage like mine reflects) a very 19th-century Victorian attitude, and that that’s sort of horrifying to them. And I guess I understand why they would see things that way, and why they would think I had settled for something terrible, and that you should hold out for the whole package,” she said.

“But all I can say to that is, ‘Maybe you’ve never loved somebody the way that I love my husband.’ There are just too many good things here for me to throw it all away and go looking for something I might never find. And again, I can see people saying ‘That’s a very fearful attitude on your part,’ but I don’t think it’s fear. I don’t want to go. I want to be with him.”

Complete Article HERE!

What your gynecologist wishes you would do

By Linda S. Mihalov, MD, FACOG

No matter a woman’s age or how comfortable she is with her gynecologist, she may still be unsure about a few things — like which symptoms are worth mentioning, how often to make an appointment and how to prepare for an exam.

Based on my 30 years of providing gynecologic care to women of all ages, I thought it would be helpful to provide a few tips about how to make the most of your care visits.

Keep track of your menstrual cycle

Dr. Linda Mihalov

Menstruation is a monthly recurrence in women’s lives from early adolescence until around the age of 51, when menopause occurs. Because of the routine nature of this biological process, it’s easy to become complacent about tracking your periods. Thankfully, there are numerous smartphone apps that help make tracking periods easy.

Keeping track of your period is important for numerous health-related reasons. A missed period is usually the first sign of pregnancy. Determining the due date of a pregnancy starts from the date of the last menstrual period. Most forms of birth control are not 100 percent effective, and an unplanned pregnancy is best recognized as soon as possible.

Conversely, women attempting to get pregnant can use period tracking to learn when they are most fertile, which may greatly increase the chances of conception.

In addition, a menstrual cycle change can indicate a gynecologic problem, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, or even uterine cancer. It is also often the first obvious symptom of health issues that have no obvious connection to the reproductive organs. When a regular menstrual cycle becomes irregular, it may indicate a hormonal or thyroid issue, liver function problems, diabetes or a variety of other health conditions. Women also often miss periods — or experience menstrual changes — when adopting a new exercise routine, gaining or losing a lot of weight or experiencing stress.

One late, early or missed period is not necessarily reason for alarm. But if menstrual irregularity is accompanied by other symptoms, a woman should schedule an appointment with her gynecologic care provider.

Get the HPV vaccine

Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is a very common virus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 80 million Americans — about one in four — are currently infected. About 14 million people, including teens, become infected with HPV each year. Most people who contract the virus will clear it from their systems without treatment, but some will go on to develop precancerous or even cancerous conditions from the infection.

The HPV vaccine is important because it protects against cancers caused by the infection. It can reduce the rate of cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancers in women; penile cancer in men; and anal cancer, cancer of the back of the throat (oropharynx), and genital warts in both women and men.

This vaccine has been thoroughly studied and is extremely safe. Also, scientific research has not shown that young people who receive the vaccine are more prone to be sexually active at an earlier age.

The HPV vaccine is recommended for preteen girls and boys at age 11 or 12 so they are protected before ever being exposed to the virus. HPV vaccine also produces a more robust immune response during the preteen years. If you or your teen have not gotten the vaccine yet, talk with your care provider about getting it as soon as possible.

The CDC now recommends that 11- to 12-year-old girls and boys receive two doses of HPV vaccine — rather than the previously recommended three doses — to protect against cancers caused by HPV. The second dose should be given six to 12 months after the first dose.

Teen girls and boys who did not start or finish the HPV vaccine series when they were younger, should get it now. People who received some doses in the past should only get doses that they missed. They do not need to start the series over again. Anyone older than 14 who is starting the HPV vaccine series needs the full three-dose regimen.

Young women can get the HPV vaccine through age 26, and young men can get vaccinated through age 21. Also, women who have been vaccinated should still have cervical cancer screenings (pap smears) according to the recommended schedule.

Do not put off having children

Fertility in women starts to decrease at age 32 and that decline becomes more rapid after age 37. Women become less fertile as they age because they begin life with a fixed number of eggs in their ovaries. This number decreases as they grow older. Eggs also are not as easily fertilized in older women as they are in younger women. In addition, problems that can affect fertility — such as endometriosis and uterine fibroids — become more common with increasing age.

Older women are more likely to have preexisting health problems that may affect their or their baby’s health during pregnancy. For example, high blood pressure and diabetes are more common in older women. If you are older than 35, you also are more likely to develop high blood pressure and related disorders for the first time during pregnancy. Miscarriages are more common in older pregnant women. Losing a pregnancy can be very distressing at any age, but perhaps even more so if it has been challenging to conceive.

So, women who are considering parenthood should not put off pursuing pregnancy for too long or it may become quite challenging.

See your gynecologist for an annual visit

For women to maintain good reproductive and sexual health, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that they visit a gynecologist for an exam about once a year. Generally, women should have their first pap test at age 21, but there may be reasons to see a gynecologic care provider earlier than that if there is a need for birth control or periods are troublesome, for instance. Although pap tests are no longer recommended every year, women should still see their provider annually for a gynecologic health assessment. This may or may not involve a pelvic exam.

Other reasons to visit a gynecologist include seeking treatment for irregular periods, sexually transmitted diseases, vaginal infections and menopause. Women who are sexually active or considering it can also visit a gynecologist to learn more about contraceptives.

During each visit, the gynecologist usually asks about a woman’s sexual history and menstrual cycle. The gynecologist may also examine the woman’s breasts and genitals. Understandably, a visit like this can cause discomfort among some women. However, periodic gynecological exams are very important to sexual and reproductive health and should not be skipped. The patient’s anxiety can be significantly decreased if she knows what to expect from the visit. Prepared with the knowledge of what actually occurs during an annual exam, women often find it can be a straightforward, rewarding experience.

There are several things women should do to prepare for a gynecological exam, including:

  • Try to schedule your appointment between menstrual periods
  • Do not have intercourse for at least 24 hours before the exam
  • Prior to the appointment, prepare a list of questions and concerns for your gynecologist
  • Since the gynecologist will ask about your menstrual cycle, it will be helpful to know the date that your last period started and how long your periods usually last

The pelvic exam includes evaluation of the vulva, vagina, cervix and the internal organs including the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries. Appearance and function of the bowel and bladder will also be assessed.

The gynecologic provider will determine whether a pap test is indicated, and order other tests as necessary, including tests for sexually transmitted infections, mammograms and screening blood work or bone density studies. Even a woman who has previously undergone a hysterectomy and, as a result, no longer needs a pap test can still benefit from visiting her gynecologist.

Primary care providers, including family practitioners and nurse practitioners, internists and pediatricians can also provide gynecological care.

Menopause

Menopause can be a challenging time. Changes in your body can cause hot flashes, weight gain, difficulty sleeping and even memory loss. As you enter menopause, you may have many questions you want to discuss with your gynecologist. It is important that you trust your gynecologist so you can confide in them and ask them uncomfortable questions. The more open you are, the better they can guide you toward the right treatment.

Complete Article HERE!

Middle-aged sex without the mid-life crisis

More people are dating in middle age, but are they looking after their sexual health?

A regular, happy sex life can benefit our physical, mental, emotional and social wellbeing, improving health and prolonging life

By

With more middle-aged people dating, or starting new relationships than ever before, are we taking enough care and consideration of our sexual health?

When we think of the faces behind recent statistics that are showing a rise in sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), we probably picture someone young. Those irresponsible students and twentysomethings playing around and not thinking through the consequences of their actions. But not so much. It is becoming clear that a large proportion of people contributing to those statistics are in fact, middle-aged. The Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) annual report highlighted an increase in women aged over 50 coming to the clinics for sexual health services, including sexually transmitted infection screening and menopause check-ups.

The association said there was a perception that once women reached menopause, that they no long needed sexual health services. But that’s not the case. Minding our sexual health all through our life is as important as looking after our physical and mental health.

Unplanned pregnancies

For many women, perhaps coming out of a long marriage or relationship, they perhaps don’t seem to think they have to go back to the good old days of contraception and protection. Yet there are more unplanned pregnancies in the 40-plus age group than the younger ages.

“We definitely see an innocence and a lack of knowledge in middle-aged women seeking our services,” says Caitriona Henchion, medical director of the IFPA. “We see women not knowing if they need emergency contraception or whether they are experiencing menopausal symptoms. They’re not sure even in their late 40s and early 50s whether they still need contraception.”

The recommendation for contraception is very simple, yet perhaps not widely known. Until you have not experienced periods for two full years and you are under the age of 50, or one full year without periods after the age of 50, you need to still consider contraception. Amid constant talk of falling fertility as we age, many women are confused about their contraception needs.

This lack of knowledge about sexual health needs is apparent not just in the number of unplanned pregnancies in older women, but the rise of STDs in that age group as well. According to Henchion, advice from GPs can sometimes vary in quality and quantity, and so any sexually active woman over the age of 40 needs to seriously consider both her health risks and contraception needs.

Regular screening

The recommendation is that anyone who is sexually active needs regular screening. This seems to be something that many women feel unable to do. But emerging from a marriage or long-term relationship where the partner may have had other sexual partners means that STD screening is imperative.

“Discovering an unfaithful partner is a really common reason that we see older women coming to our clinics for screening,” says Henchion. “Our advice would be that the first thing to consider when starting with new partners is to ensure you have safer sex with condoms.”

But condoms don’t protect against everything, so the recommendation from the IFPA would be that if in sexual relationships you need to have testing twice a year.

“Obviously the people I see are a self-selecting group who are sexually active and attending our services, but certainly I would see a lot more people in the 50-plus [group] who are openly talking about their wants and needs and their problems with it, which is great,” explains Henchion. Who they do not see are the men and women not seeking sexual health services, or asking openly about their needs

One of the reasons there is a rise in general of STDs is because far more tests are being carried out, and therefore, more positive results. The tests are better now for chlamydia and gonorrhoea, so whereas a few years ago tests had less than 75 per cent detection rate, today it is 99 per cent. The tests themselves are simple. For men with no symptoms it is a straightforward urine sample and blood test, and for a woman, a vaginal swab and blood test in a nurse-led clinic.

Simple rule

According to Henchion, “the simple rule would be if you have a new partner for a few weeks, get tested.” But for many people, we perhaps don’t even know what to look for.

The top three STDs in terms of prevalence would be chlamydia, warts and herpes, and although many of the symptoms are obvious such as bleeding or physical warts, in more than 50 per cent of cases there are no symptoms. How many cases are picked up is through automatic testing when going for certain contraception options such as the coil.

Henchion believes we need better sex education and awareness for all generations. “I see 21-year-olds coming in with no understanding of how STDs such as herpes and warts can still be spread even though they are using condoms. And for sexually active people in middle age, there is often a significant lack of knowledge.”

For now, until sexual health education is more widely available, there are plenty of support services including GPs, well woman/well man sexual health clinics and the Guide Clinic at St James’s Hospital. The IFPA offers free advice, and there are plenty of online services such as HealthyIreland.ie.

“The key message is that early detection makes a huge difference in reducing risk of pelvic infection and obviously reducing the risk of passing it on,” warns Henchion. “Anyone, whatever age, who is sexually active needs to mind their sexual health.”

Middle-aged, single and on fire – or talking ourselves celibate?

For many women who have reached the supposed sexual prime of their 40s and 50s, their body image is shattered along with their energy. A recent survey suggested some women in this age bracket have the lowest confidence of any other age group regarding body image, and it’s affecting their sex lives. Yet another survey highlighted the fact that some women in middle age are having the best sex of their lives. If both surveys are right, is it all just down to attitude, and can changing your attitude change your sexual mojo?

In the two decades since the iconic shenanigans of the “man-eater” Samantha shocked a nation in Sex and the City (while women everywhere sniggered at the delight of it), middle-age sex is becoming mainstream. The BBC were at it with Happy Valley, and even Cold Feet caught up. First time round, Adam and co were in their youth, but now that they are heading towards 50, who is the one having all the sex? Karen. Middle-aged, single and on fire. Now that ordinary middle-aged women are being shown to be – gasp! – sexual, it begs the question: what does this mean for us? Is this liberating or intimidating?

It seems your answer to that question is the difference between having an active sex life in and beyond middle age and putting away the sexy knickers and taking out the comfy slippers.

Like tight skin and fashionable clothes, sex used to be the domain of the young. But now middle-aged women can have tight skin, fashionable clothes and sex as well. It all depends on your attitude. If you think your sex life is over at 50, it will be.

“Attitude is so important,” says sex therapist Kate McCabe. “I see women challenging traditional values and beliefs that you are past it sexually after a certain age. Women are having babies later, new relationships later, are mentally and physically healthier and anxious to be active and participate fully in every aspect of their lives.”

In fact, a regular, happy sex life can benefit our physical, mental, emotional and social wellbeing, improving health and prolonging life. This generation of middle-aged women have opportunities to redefine what stereotype they fit into, experiencing greater sexual, financial, social and intellectual freedom than at any previous time. Contraception has meant we are not overburdened with childbearing, and openness about sex means that issues which might have caused discomfort and difficulty can be addressed. The increase in divorce and separation now means that middle-aged dating is an acceptable social norm.

So why are all middle-aged women not taking advantage of the chance to flirt their 50s away and sex up their 60s

“Sex must be worth it,” explains McCabe. “I see women who come into therapy to see how they can best improve their sex life, even to the extent that they’ll bring in their partners and manage to engage in that conversation.

And it’s women of all ages. McCabe has clients in their 60s and 70s. “They are definitely getting out there, and they want really good, honest information on how to make the most of their sexual potential.”

But what about those women who are talking themselves celibate because of lack of confidence? Media plays a huge part in how women can often rate themselves. According to McCabe, feeling sensual has nothing to do with how you look.

“Finding intimacy is a brave step. Overcoming hang-ups to really explore our own sensuality is vital. And much of it relies on getting the right attitude.”

Complete Article HERE!

When You Are Old, Chinese, and Gay

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual retirees seek companionship and acceptance in old age, but some find it harder than others.

 

By Fan Yiying

Zhang Guowei, a 76-year-old bisexual veteran, is relishing his twilight years. “I couldn’t be happier with my life post-retirement,” says Zhang, who was a doctor in the army until 1994.

As a former military officer, Zhang’s monthly pension is 10,000 yuan ($1,440) — five times the average pension in Changde, the small city in central China’s Hunan province where he lives with his boyfriend. Zhang divorced his wife in 2003 and met the love of his life — Wu, who is 40 years younger — a year later on the internet. “I expect him to accompany me through the remainder of my life,” Zhang tells Sixth Tone after finishing his daily exercise routine.

Zhang says he is bisexual but prefers men. He gained support and understanding from his ex-wife and two daughters when he came out to them in 2003. When he passes on, his assets will be divided equally among his daughters and his boyfriend. “My kids have no problem sharing with Wu because they know he is the one taking care of me in my final years,” he says.

The May-December couple have been living together since 2005 in an apartment provided by the government for retired army cadres and their families. The 10-story building houses a dozen veterans in their 60s through 90s, some living alone and others with their spouses.

When Wu first moved in, Zhang told his neighbors that Wu was his gan erzi, or adopted son, whom he met online. (The Chinese concept of gan erzi allows for a sort of informal adoption of adults, with no legal or religious implications.) “I had this vague idea that they might be gay,” says 74-year-old Lu Shize, who lives downstairs. “But it’s none of my business to ask about his private life,” Lu adds.

Last year, following in other veterans’ footsteps, Zhang wrote a 218-page autobiography — including his experiences of recognizing his sexuality — and shared it with his fellow cadres. His neighbors were very understanding. “Everyone knows about us, and no one gossips or gives us a hard time,” Zhang says.

Lu, who had never before met any out gay or bisexual men, says he admires Zhang’s courage. “Being gay or not, it doesn’t change the way I see him,” Lu says. “We are in our 70s; what’s more important than being happy and healthy?”

China’s population is rapidly aging. The proportion of the population aged 60 or older was more than 16 percent at the end of 2015, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, and that number is only set to increase. The nation’s changing demography brings with it challenges for managing welfare and health care, especially as fewer seniors are able to count on their families for support.

Two older men hold a symbolic wedding ceremony in Beijing, Jan. 30, 2013.

Decades of family-planning restrictions mean that even seniors who have children often must become self-reliant, as children born during the one-child policy can’t afford to support two parents and four grandparents. As a result, for many elders, being childless is no longer a major concern or an unusual occurrence.

Wen Xiaojun, 56, is single and childless. Immediately after he retired in November from working as a civil servant, he rented an apartment in Sanya, on the southern island of Hainan, where he is spending six months avoiding the cold of his hometown in the eastern province of Zhejiang. “I still feel young and restless,” Wen tells Sixth Tone. “Being childless makes it easy for me to travel after retirement.”

Like other older people, LGBT seniors want to have rich, fulfilling, and independent lives. They hope that retirement will give them the opportunity to focus on what they truly love.

Wen enjoys his slow-paced life in Sanya. He goes to exhibitions, takes walks along the beach, plays volleyball with locals, and sometimes meets up with men he contacts through Blued — a popular gay social app, on which he hopes to find a long-term boyfriend.

But dating isn’t easy for older gay men. “Younger generations can build a relationship quickly by kissing or having sex soon after they meet offline,” Wen explains. “But we want something more spiritual and stable.”

Similarly, 62-year-old Ah Shan, as he’s called within the gay community, says that finding a partner is his biggest problem these days. His finances are secure, as he owns his apartment in Guangzhou — capital of southern China’s Guangdong province — and receives a monthly pension of about 5,000 yuan, but he has been single for four years and is ready for that to change. In the meantime, he is renting out one of his bedrooms to gay friends so he has some company at home.

Ah Shan poses for a picture in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, 2013.

Most gays, lesbians, and bisexuals of Ah Shan’s generation knew little about their sexual orientation until internet access became available at the turn of the millennium. Even when Ah Shan was working in the U.S. in the late 1980s, he refused to consider himself gay because the only information he’d heard about gay topics in China was AIDS-related or implied that homosexuality was shameful or immoral. “I think I was brainwashed,” Ah Shan laughs.

Over the last two years, Ah Shan has been working on a gay oral history project, recording the stories of older gay men in Guangzhou. He has talked to more than 60 gay men aged from 60 to 90, who have experienced some of China’s most critical historic moments, from the Cultural Revolution to the nation’s opening-up era. “If we don’t record them now, part of the important history of LGBT in China will be gone,” he says.

Many of the men are married and choose not to come out to their families. “They go to this particular park to chat with other gay men in the daytime to release their emotions, but when the sun goes down, they have to return home to bear their family responsibilities,” Ah Shan says with a sigh.

Ah Shan’s own parents passed away before he was brave enough to tell them the truth. His mother died in 2000, a year before homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness in China.

Compared with gay and bisexual men, older women find it even more difficult to disclose or discuss their sexual orientation. Since 2010, 45-year-old Yu Shi from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, has been working on an oral history project for older same-sex-attracted women across China, but she says the process of locating participants and persuading them to share their stories is tough.

“Chinese women are in a weak position in the family, which doesn’t allow them to speak out for themselves,” Yu says, adding that of the 30 or so lesbians who have taken part in the project over the last six years, only one has come out to her family. Many won’t divorce their husbands even if they have female partners. “Chinese people are very concerned with saving face, and they think it’s a loss of face to get a divorce if you’re already a grandparent,” she says.

Yu and her 40-year-old girlfriend have lived together for over a decade, but despite their enduring, loving relationship, they can’t enjoy the security of a formal union, as same-sex marriage is not yet legal in China. Some issues can be resolved by making a will, but others — like legal or medical power of attorney — remain a problem.

According to Yu, some LGBT seniors who are single and childless have considered building their own retirement estate where they can live together and take care of one another. Although they aren’t opposed to regular nursing homes, Yu says “they prefer to live in a place where they can open their hearts and share their experiences with others in the same circumstances.”

A lesbian couple kiss each other during an event in Shanghai, Dec. 22, 2013.

As more and more seniors live separately from their children, retirement facilities in China have struggled to meet growing demand. The government encourages investment in privately owned nursing homes, but so far none have been established exclusively for members of sexual minority groups.

Little public attention is given to the needs of older LGBT people, but to Wang Anke, a 50-year-old bisexual woman from Beijing, these individuals don’t do enough to stand up for themselves, either. “We are almost invisible,” she says.

Wang married her husband in 1990 and plans to spend the rest of her life with him. Though Wang considers herself happy and fortunate, she says that most older lesbian and bisexual women she knows are pessimistic about their senior years. “They’re lonely and lack emotional care,” Wang says, adding that many would rather live alone than move into a nursing home where they fear they can’t be themselves. “Loneliness will go to the grave with them.”

But while some LGBT seniors advocate dedicated nursing homes, Ah Shan opposes the idea of separate services. “In the long run, LGBT people shouldn’t lock ourselves in a so-called safe place,” he says. “What we really need is for the overall environment to allow us to live comfortably in the community.”

Complete Article HERE!