Having the Sex Talk with Your Parent

by | Jul 24, 2020 | Caregiving

Many years ago your mom or dad probably had “the talk” with you. Perhaps over your teen and young-adult years your parent(s) initiated many talks about love, dating, sex and the selection of a life partner. Now, as the adult child of an aging parent you may find the tables have turned, and it’s your turn to have “the talk.” Sure, it’s hard. It was probably hard for your mom or dad, too. But they loved you enough to do it. Shouldn’t you do the same for them?

As they say, it’s a whole new world out there. In some ways that’s true. If your parent is recently widowed or divorced, or has decided after some time of singledom that it’s time to look for love, here are 7 pieces of advice you may want to offer for dating in the 21st century.

1. Keep your cell phone charged. When you were dating, your parents likely had you carry change for a pay phone — just in case. Today, a pay phone is a rare find and a couple of quarters just won’t cut it if Mom needs to call for help or a ride home. (Carrying quarters is still a good idea for toll plazas and parking meters, however.) Make sure your parent doesn’t leave the house without a fully charged cell phone – but remind Dad to avoid using the phone to check on sports scores, grandchildren or the latest cool apps. His focus should be on his date – not his phone.

2. Don’t show too much skin. Mom wouldn’t have let you out the door wearing a micro-mini skirt or a skimpy bikini. Now it’s time for you to broach the subject of modesty with her. (The same goes for Dad – tiny Speedos are an absolute “no-no” if he takes a lady friend to the beach or pool!). If mom wants to look sexy for her date, a turtleneck probably isn’t a good idea either, but neither is a plunging neckline that shows way too much cleavage.

3. Let your date do the talking. If your parent has lived alone for a while, it can be tempting to talk when she finds a listening ear. But remind her of the one rule of dating that has persisted even since she was a teenager: Let your date do the talking. By asking questions and listening more than talking, she shows her date she is interested in him. She also gets to know more about him to decide just how interested she really is. Besides, if he also knows the rule, he’ll make an effort to ask questions and give her ample opportunity to talk, too.

4. Viagra works. To your parents’ distress, the ability to get an erection was probably never an issue for the pimply-faced teenager you dated. For as many as 25 percent of 65-year-old men, however, erectile dysfunction is a regular problem, according to the National Institutes of Health. And an even larger percentage experience at least occasional trouble with achieving or maintaining an erection. Fortunately, for many men, an oral medication taken shortly before sexual activity helps. If your parent is at the point of seeking a physically intimate relationship, a discussion with the doctor might be in order.

5. Use Protection. Obviously regardless of age one can still get sexually transmitted diseases (although your parents may have referred to venereal disease, or VD, in their talks with you) and many unfortunately do. According to England’s Family Planning Agency (FPA), the number of reported cases of STDs among 50-to 90-year-olds has more than doubled in the past decade, perhaps due in part to the availability of drugs mentioned previously. Remind dad (or mom) to always carry along a condom.

6. Don’t rush into a relationship. If your parent is recently divorced or widowed remind them (as they may have frequently reminded you) that it’s not wise to jump into a relationship too quickly. While most counselors recommend waiting at least a year to remarry after a divorce or death of a spouse, your parent, understandably, may feel that life is too short to wait around once they have found, “the one.” No, you can’t tell your parent what to do in matters of love, but it may be helpful to remind them that while loneliness is not good, spending the rest of their life with the wrong person is worse. At least you’ll know you tried.

7. Be cautious with dates you meet online. In the 2010 documentary film Catfish, the young star Nev Schulman discovered that the “attractive young dancer” with whom he had an online relationship was actually a middle-age mother of four. If your parent is looking to meet potential love interests online, remind them things aren’t always as they seem on the Internet and to beware. More serious than a date who lies about his age or other details is one who is a threat to your parent’s safety. In her initial conversations and meetings with an Internet date, ask your mother to use just her cell phone (her home phone can easily be tracked to her home address) and to meet him in a public place.

Ready to have the talk? These 7 pieces of advice should serve as a starting point for the talk, or better yet, an ongoing dialogue with your parent. Whether your parent is alone for the first time in many years or has been on her own for a while now, her desire to look for love is certainly understandable. Your role is to be supportive and understanding.



Having “the sex talk” with your parents is admittedly a tricky proposition. My last HuffPost blog about this topic set off a stream of comments, some asserting that I was being condescending.  In my 20 years of working as an advocate for caregivers, baby boomers and mature adults, I’ve never seen such a strong reaction to a topic.

“They’re old, not stupid” wrote one HuffPost50 reader.

Rest assured, I would certainly never advise anyone to talk down to his or her parents. Why I chose to address the issue is simple: Sex is different today than it was in the past and it will continue to change with the times.

Just as an example, the New York Times recently reported that more baby boomers are contracting sexually transmitted diseases than ever before, citing both the “Graying of America” demographically as well as basic physiological and psychological changes that occur as we get older.

By no means did I intend to be patronizing by offering these important tips. The goal was to make sure that mature adults who are re-entering the dating scene — especially if it’s been a long time — understand that the so-called “scene” has dramatically changed over the last decade.

In the case of The Sex Talk, clearly, “approach and tone” are everything. It’s one thing to say, “Mom, I heard you’re dating again. Be careful out there — I don’t want to see you get hurt,” versus “Mom, you really should be carrying protection around with you.” Having the sex talk requires respect and tact ,regardless of age.

“Lay off and let adults be adults, trust me, even at age 80, they can handle their business without the interference of a nosy daughter or son,” wrote another HuffPost reader who commented on my blog.

We can ALL use some sound advice. The advice you’ve given me is: Be really careful when writing about older people and sex — it’s a touchy subject, to say the least (pun intended)! I agree that one should never speak to someone with more life experience without recognizing and appreciating their wisdom. As a passionate advocate in the field of gerontology, this has always been my mantra. But our culture and the subject of dating and sexuality, in general, has definitely changed over the last decade due to advances in technology (online dating, for instance) and the vast increases in longevity, widowhood and divorce. For example:

    • In most cases, women are now freer to be assertive, which challenges traditional etiquette
    • New online dating sites geared toward baby boomers and beyond have created more dating opportunities with different types of people
    • More women are financially independent, which may change what they are looking for in a partner

Many mature adults, especially those 65+ who are recently widowed or divorced, often reach out and tell me it’s been a long time since they’ve been back in the dating scene and a frank conversation is just what they’re looking for from anyone who is willing to broach the subject. I believe it’s about time we set aside the notion that you can’t give advice (sexual or non) to anyone who is older. There are all theses “taboo” or “white elephant in the room” subjects when it comes to talking with our mature parents — enough already — let’s open up the lines of communication. It goes both ways!

I also want to make sure we don’t forget a central point in this dialogue. Sex is about joy! In many cases those 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 years old and beyond now have a second chance that many of their parents did not have — they can reinvent themselves as a single person (and for you readers who said I looked “too young” to address this subject, I’m 45, but I greatly appreciate your comments!).

Another HuffPost reader commented: “This advice is as good for young as old now days. There are older people who’ve lost a partner who never took a chance on having sex ‘their way’ and they now want to try something different than what they had. I live in a retirement community and hear this a lot.”

In essence, we can all begin to rediscover ourselves as sexual beings. The thought of our parents having sex clearly (according to the blog feedback) seems disturbing to many, but it’s happening — and that’s a good thing — so we need to make sure that our parents and grandparents understand some of the ramifications of the “new” dating scene to ensure they practice safe sex and are careful about their choices. Let’s have an open discussion about it — with lots of respect from all sides.