En español | Aida Gonzalez says one word describes her last relationship: nitroglycerin. Her partnership with the Hispanic man in his early forties lasted two and a half years. Many issues pulled them apart, but none happened in the bedroom, she says.
The 63-year-old social worker in Trenton, New Jersey, still actively dates—mostly Latino men. Gonzalez, who asked that her real name not be used, believes Hispanics put a higher priority on having great sex and passion in their relationships than do other Americans. And she’s not alone. AARP’s latest sex survey, “Sex, Romance, and Relationships: AARP Survey of Midlife and Older Adults,” found surprising intimate details about U.S. Hispanics age 45 and older.
More Sex, Better Sex
According to the survey, Hispanics 45+ have sex more frequently than non-Hispanics their age. Almost 40 percent report having sex at least once a week, compared to just 28 percent of the general U.S. population. Hispanic men report having sex slightly more often than Hispanic women in the same age group.
Findings also suggest that, more than quantity, Latinos seem more satisfied with the quality of their sex lives. Fifty-six percent say they’re “extremely” or “somewhat” satisfied with their sex lives, compared to only 43 percent of the general population.
Survey findings, however, don’t shed much light on exactly why older Hispanics might be having more sex than other people in their age group. The data suggest that Hispanics may place slightly more value on sexual intimacy in their relationships. For example, they’re more likely to agree that “sex is critical to a good relationship” (68 percent vs. 58 percent) and “sex is a duty to one’s partner” (43 percent vs. 33 percent). But in seeming contradiction, Hispanics are also more likely than non-Hispanics to agree that “sex is primarily for procreation” (15 percent vs. 8 percent) and “I do not particularly enjoy sex” (13 percent vs. 7 percent).
“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.
“From a relational perspective, Hispanics value family and traditional gender roles,” says Gomes, who is a certified sex and marriage therapist. “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.”
Spiritual well-being may also have something to do with satisfaction. AARP’s survey found that spiritual well-being was slightly more important for Hispanics: 73 percent of Hispanics said that spiritual wellbeing is very important to them, compared to just 59 percent of the general population.
Some experts also contend that sensuality, not just sex, may play a more important role in the lives of Latinos compared to other ethnic groups.
The survey suggests, for instance, that older Hispanics display more affection to their mates, a behavior that tends to be rewarded with more sex.
“I’ve found that Hispanics tend to communicate more openly about sex—the spontaneity, the ability to talk about sex, to be romantic on the phone... The differences in these areas are huge with Hispanic men,” adds Elbie B., 50, a Cuban woman in Miami who asked to remain anonymous and who has dated men of varied backgrounds since her divorce 18 years ago.
The financial stresses of the last few years have hit many 45+ Americans right where it hurts—their libidos. But unlike findings for the general population, the survey showed no dip in sexual frequency or satisfaction for Hispanics. According to Gomes, many studies show that the quality of relationships is a significant factor in weathering the ups and downs of life. While such a protective factor doesn’t depend on one’s background or culture, many Hispanics may have an advantage here. Having a greater ability to draw on a support network may offer one possible explanation as to why older Hispanics didn’t see the same drop in their sexual activity and satisfaction during the hard economic times that the average 45+ person experienced.
Gonzalez, who works with many different racial groups as a social worker, says she observed these benefits among several Hispanic families when the going got tough.
“During the recession, the Hispanics I worked with definitely had more family to rely on if they lost their job,” she says. “I really think we have more people to be concerned about us if something bad happens.”
The survey, though, may not reflect the views of Hispanics who grew up in households where the word “sex” was never uttered. Hispanic culture is varied enough to hold many different experiences. Other Hispanics feel these findings ring true, and romanticism comes just as high as sex or sensuality.
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