Sex and the Senior Set - 1
How physical lovin’ changes when you reach 60 and beyond.
Thursday, May 10, 2012
The month of May is designated nationally as Older Americans Month. In recognition, the Weekly has partnered with the Monterey County Area Agency on Aging to publish the 2012 Best of Monterey Bay® Senior Resource Guide this week. This guide is a full color magazine that details vital information for seniors on topics ranging from counseling to housing services to transportation. The Senior Resource Guide is available starting this week at over 100 local non-profits, public agencies and health care providers who offer services to seniors and those who care for them. The magazine will be available all year at those locations.
Digital edition is available at this link.
Copies of the magazine can also be picked up at the Weekly’s offices in Seaside.
Sex therapist Stephen Braveman walks into an elementary school classroom.
“Do older people have sex?” he asks the youngins.
“No. They stop having sex when they’re old,” comes the reply.
Braveman: “How old is that?”
Kids: “Around 30.”
Braveman, a licensed marriage and family therapist, then goes on to clarify a couple things. First, he tells the kids, 30 is not old. “Old is considered 85 and above,” he says. “[American Association of Retired Persons] membership starts a little earlier, however. You get that the moment you turn 50.”
And second, while there are a few adjustments to sexuality – physically, mentally and emotionally – for the over-50 set, they still do do it.
“One of the things some women and men are quite surprised to find is that they still have a strong sex drive at and after 50,” Braveman says. “Part of this is perpetuated by the fact that when those of us who are over 50 now were kids, the media portrayed 50 as old. You don’t have sex when you’re old. You sleep in separate beds from your partner.”
Blame it on pop culture for making senior sex so unsexy. It used to be June and Ward Cleaver sleeping in twin beds; these days we’ve got an obsession with “cougars.” But things are changing: Think Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin in It’s Complicated. Sex in the senior years can be sexy and fulfilling. Love and desire know no age limits.
“There’s no timeline on sexual interest or function that is based upon chronological age,” says Martin Skerritt, a licensed clinical social worker in Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula’s Outpatient Behavioral Health Services department. “It’s a part of the human condition. There isn’t a point where that significantly changes, except for the fact that we do go through changes in aging that can affect sexual interest and function.”
These may include side effects from medication, chronic illness or acute health concerns, or hormonal changes, Skerritt says. They may also include psychological changes or mental health concerns, ranging from grief over the death of a partner to stress from aging.
Physical bodies do change. Gravity takes its toll. Body parts and hormone levels drop. Muscles, without proper exercise, lose their tone. Some ailments become more common with age. But this doesn’t mean you stop lovin’.
Dr. Jill Tiongco, an internist at Peninsula Primary Care, a CHOMP primary care affiliate in Carmel, moved to the area in 2009 from Arizona, where the majority of her patients were in their 70s and 80s. “The first thing seniors should know: It’s not taboo to talk about sex with their health care providers, because it’s a very important part of their life,” Tiongco says.
As men age, their testosterone levels decline. “Some of the effects: Usually a man will take a longer time to get an erection, will need more stimulation to get it, more stimulation to sustain it and – good news for a lot of men – will take longer to ejaculate,” Braveman explains.
The bad news: it gets harder to get hard. Thanks to the constant TV commercials for Viagra, Cialis, Levitra and the like, men are increasingly comfortable talking with their doctors about erectile dysfunction, according to health care professionals. But that doesn’t mean men should simply ask the doc for the little blue pills and be done with the discussion.
“When the men come in and talk about erectile dysfunction, they should actually talk in-depth about what could come with it,” Tiongco says. “There’s a subset of patients who will only have erectile dysfunction, but there are also accompanying illnesses related to the vascular system.”
Hormone changes affect women, too, and are largely related to menopause.
“And not just the regular hot flashes and mood changes,” Tiongco says, “but women could develop thinning of the lining in the vaginal area, which could make it uncomfortable or painful when they engage in intercourse.” Hormone creams, she says, can help lessen discomfort and help with dryness.
In women, unlike men, however, it’s also a case of use it or lose it.
“If women don’t have regular vaginal contact with either a penis or a finger or a toy, the vaginal canal starts to atrophy,” Braveman says. “Basically, you need to exercise it.” So to stay in shape, Braveman suggests a workout video of sorts: Femme Productions, a porn company founded by former adult film star Candida Royalle, that makes female-friendly porn, i.e., dirty movies with character development, a plot line and plenty of sex.
“I would highly recommend Eyes of Desire Part 1 and Part 2,” he says. “It’s got a story and enough sex for the average man to enjoy.”
Or an, ahem, exercise machine. “If a woman hasn’t owned a vibrator in, let’s say 30 years, she may want to know they’re very different these days,” Braveman says. “They’re smaller. More delicately designed. Nice colors.”
Psychological factors come into play in the bedroom, too. One partner may feel less attractive to the other, especially if they’ve been in a relationship for decades. Some seniors may feel anxiety if they’ve been celibate for many years or are re-entering the dating scene after the death of a spouse.
“We are so programmable when it comes to our sexual behaviors that by 70, 80, we think we know everything,” Braveman says. “Certainly having sex with only one person for many years isn’t going to teach you everything about sex.
“My mother, the first time she was with someone else after my dad died, she said, ‘You’re a sex therapist. Can I ask you some questions? Because this guy does things your dad never did.’”
While meeting the parents is no longer a concern for geriatric lovers, Braveman adds, meeting the adult children may be. “A lot of times seniors are very caught by surprise,” he says. “They want to introduce the kids to their new sweetheart and the kids say, ‘That’s great, but you’re not sleeping in the same bed.’”
Ah, the tables do turn.
Also vitally important to remember: Qualifying for the early bird dinner special doesn’t mean you’re immune to sexually transmitted diseases including HIV. Get tested before beginning a new relationship, and ask your partner to do the same.
Tiongco references an East Coast professor and geriatrician who divides the senior population into two different groups: the elderly and the welderly.
“The welderly are the ones who do better because of their more well-rounded approach to life,” she says. “That’s what we have to realize with seniors when it comes to sex and sexuality. We don’t want to focus on it being a part of life that we’re not always comfortable talking about. Sex is a part of seniors’ overall health.”