LET’S TALK ABOUT SEX
Think your sex life is destined to cool off after 50 or so? We found a lot of evidence to the contrary and spoke to some experts who backed it up. Sexual desire doesn’t die once society deems you a “senior,” or even if you’re physically infirm. Here are some myths about the over-50 set that might make kids squirm but should encourage everyone else.
MYTH 1: OLD PEOPLE ARE ASEXUAL
The old-fashioned notion that grandparents are more interested in napping than physical intimacy simply isn’t true. “Oh my gosh, we’re sexual beings lifelong,” says Joan Price, author of “The Ultimate Guide to Sex after 50” and “Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex.” “We don’t have an expiration date on how long we can be sexual.”
MYTH 2: SENIORS DON’T TALK ABOUT SEX
HealthDay reports that, as Baby Boomers get on in years, they’re normalizing the idea of a continuing sex life. Sexuality expert Joan Price says younger people simply don’t ask their elders about it. She recommends expanding the definition of sex when the topic is broached. “Are we having penetrative intercourse? Are we having orgasms? Do we have a partner for sex or are we having sex on our own?”
MYTH 3: YOU DON’T NEED PROTECTION WHEN YOU’RE OLDER
While pregnancy may not be an issue, it’s necessary to use protection throughout your sexual life to prevent STDs. The National Institute on Aging recommends condoms for all intercourse. Linda Waite, a sociology professor who studies senior sex at the University of Chicago, points out the importance of condoms in preventing HPV, which is associated with cervical and oral cancer.
MYTH 4: OLDER PEOPLE CAN’T GET NO SATISFACTION
Linda Waite’s research on senior sex for the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project shows that older people are having orgasms. “Even among women who were 65 to 75, 75 to 85, we don’t see an increase in sexual problems, like failure to have orgasms or lack of interest,” she says. “If they’re still having sex, they’re doing as well as they were when they were 10 years younger.” The University of Michigan’s National Poll on Healthy Aging shows that 73 percent of people 65 to 80 are satisfied with their sex lives.
MYTH 5: SENIORS LOSE INTEREST IN SEX
An AARP survey of midlife and older adultsshowed that 25 percent think about sex daily and half think about it weekly. Mental health issues, anxiety, depression, and stress may reduce interest but can be treated, Linda Waite says. “There are lots of ways to address all of those that don’t involve medication or seeing a psychiatrist. There’s meditation, yoga, cognitive behavioral therapy, and working on the quality of the relationship. It’s never too late to do that.”
MYTH 6: OLDER PEOPLE ARE NO LONGER ATTRACTIVE
While older people may have more wrinkles, there’s more to attraction than looks. “The other sex organ in the body is really the nose,” Linda Waite says. “Pheromones, being clean, using a little perfume or talc or body wash, having an attractive smell is very important.” Pheromones may change with age but they’re still unique. “Your partner smells like your partner,” Waite says. “If you’ve got a good relationship, that’s arousing.”
MYTH 7: SENIORS HAVE ONLY MONOGAMOUS RELATIONSHIPS
Linda Waite’s research on senior sex shows that most people over 57 are sexual with monogamous partners, but sex expert Joan Price has more varied accounts. “Some of us are monogamous, yes,” she says. “Some of us are unpartnered. Some of us enjoy casual sex. Some of us have a friend with benefits. Some of us have multiple relationships.” A study referenced in Psychology Today up the idea of elderly “friends with benefits.”
MYTH 8: OLD COUPLES DON’T LIKE EACH OTHER ANYMORE
The cranky old couple who are sick of each other is a cliché, but Linda Waite says most people who’ve celebrated a golden anniversary still desire each other. “Here’s somebody who’s known you all your life practically,” Waite says. “This person knows you better than anybody else on the planet. For many people, there’s increasing closeness.”
MYTH 9: OLDER PEOPLE ARE TOO FRAGILE FOR SEX
While there’s greater risk of injury later in life, there are also plenty of safe ways for seniors to continue enjoying sex. According to a Harvard Medical school study, for every 10,000 people with heart disease who have sex once a week, only two or three will experience another heart attack, and their risk of dying during sex is extremely low.
MYTH 10: SEX IS TOO PAINFUL FOR SENIORS
Joint pain and arthritis increase with age, but simple adjustments can help. The sex product company Sportsheets suggests spooning, kneeling on a pillow, bracing a leg against a partner, sitting in a chair, or even standing. As sexuality expert Joan Price puts it, “If our knees hurt, then we get off our knees and do all the wonderful things that arouse us and get us to orgasm.”
MYTH 11: IMPOTENCE MAKES INTERCOURSE IMPOSSIBLE
Maintaining an erection may become more difficult with age, but there’s no need to rule out sexual intercourse altogether. Talk to your doctor about medication options. Mayo Clinic also recommends trying sex in the morning, when you’re well rested.
MYTH 12: VIAGRA MAKES YOU YOUNG AGAIN (IN BED)
Medication can induce an erection, but it can’t make you a kid again — and that’s okay. “For one thing, we don’t want to have sex like we’re 20,” sexuality expert Joan Price says. “Now that things have slowed down for us, we can put a great deal of time and effort and pleasure into pleasuring a partner. It’s better than when we were 20, I think.”
MYTH 13: MENOPAUSE IS THE END OF SEX FOR WOMEN
Sexuality expert Joan Price scoffs at the idea of menopause closing the door to sexual function. “It’s the end of fertility. It’s not the end of sexual pleasure,” she says. Lubrication can decrease along with hormone levels, but the National Women’s Health Network has several solutions, including foreplay and more frequent sexual activity.
MYTH 14: INTERCOURSE IS THE ONLY WAY TO HAVE SEX
MYTH 15: THERE’S ONLY ONE WAY FOR A MAN TO HIT A HIGH NOTE
It turns out that men don’t have to orgasm only in the way they did when they were younger. “Someone without an erection and without an ejaculation can also feel a full orgasm,” sexuality expert Joan Price says. “That’s something that a lot of people don’t know.”
MYTH 16: TOYS ARE FOR KIDS
Sexuality expert Joan Price is an advocate for using sex toys, as she’s reviewed some 120. Convincing her readers to incorporate them has been part of her mission. “It’s a terrible trick on us that, just as we need more stimulation, we get wrist arthritis,” she says. “How fair is that? Sex toys take over when arthritic wrists have to give out.”
MYTH 17: YOU CAN’T HAVE INTIMACY WITHOUT SEX
Sometimes orgasm is medically unfeasible, but even hand-holding and hugging are valuable. “People can be sexually inactive and very happy with the relationship,” the University of Chicago’s Linda Waite says. “If your spouse is sick, has diabetes, or some heart condition, you can have a close, intimate, happy, dependent relationship even if sex is no longer possible.”
MYTH 18: YOU’RE OUT OF LUCK WITHOUT A PARTNER
Who says you need someone else to have a good time? One in five midlife and older adults surveyed by AARP for its report on sex, romance, and relationships said they self-stimulate.