Friday, August 31, 2007

Kiss Tomorrow Hello: Midlife Underground

I really enjoyed reading Kiss Tomorrow Hello: Notes from the Midlife Underground by 25 Women Over Forty. These essays reflect the thoughts, life events and relationships of 25 excellent women writers reflecting on age, health, love, sex, and change.

The writers range in age from 40 to much older, and I found their experiences and perspectives fascinating. For example, Joyce Maynard, at 51, discusses what she discovered from her foray into Internet dating ("maybe an amazing relationship is something you painstakingly build, not something that hits you like a lightning bolt... viewing the process as a search more like a road trip to parts unknown."). Karen Karbo discloses details about her relationship with a man 16 years younger ("OWs [Older Women] have learned that sex, and they like it when their women like it, and that's about it. [Younger women] worry far too much about cellulite. Basically if you're naked and smiling, men are pretty happy.")

The essay that gripped me the hardest was "Tearing Up the Sheets: A Meditation on Middle-Age Sex" by Ellen Sussman. As I read it, I kept running to my husband to read him parts. For example,

My husband and I prefer to make love in the afternoon. In the evening, we're, well, tired. And we like energetic, tear-up-the-sheets kind of sex. So we steal away from our workand spend some time imitating porn stars. Then we take a long middle-age nap.

Boys come quickly. Men do not. Hallelujah.

I fumble with my jeans, pushing them down and off. I scramble to pull his T-shirt over his head -- wait, it's caught in his glasses -- and the shirt and glasses fall to the floor... He grunts when he turns toward me -- an old hip injury -- and I cringe when I lean into the cushion -- my damn back. And then we've got it right... When he enters me, he fills me. I pull him close, wanting all of him. I give him all of me.

If you're interested in this lively and provocative book, it's available from Amazon here.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Seniors: Please Just Say Yes to Condoms

The media blast continues over the Big News that seniors are still having sex. (At what age were we supposed to stop,and why?) I'm happy to see this media coverage help raise awareness, even though I marvel that it's also raising eyebrows.

A very interesting story appears in the August 13, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report about a subject I've harped on all year -- the fact that seniors in the dating world are often in denial about their risk for contracting STDs. "Sex Ed for Seniors: You Still Need Those Condoms: Sexually transmitted diseases stalk older singles, too" by Deborah Kotz makes this point:

With Viagra and Internet dating sites at their fingertips, a growing number of seniors are enjoying a renaissance between the sheets, but some are paying the piper, contracting sexually transmitted diseases. As HIV carriers live longer, the majority will be over age 50 by 2015, and even now about 15 percent of new infections occur in this age group, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other STDs, including herpes, chlamydia, and human papillomavirus, which is linked to cervical cancer, are also making the rounds. "While it's a good thing that older people are more sexually active, they need to connect the dots, see that they're at increased risk, and make sure they use condoms," says Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Kotz discusses a University of Chicago study revealing that nearly 60 percent of unmarried women ages 58 to 93 said they didn't use a condom the last time they had sex. An Ohio University study found that about 27 percent of HIV-infected men and 35 percent of HIV-infected women over 50 sometimes have sex without using condoms.

Kotz makes the excellent point that postmenopausal women may be particularly prone to getting infected with blood-borne diseases like HIV or chlamydia.
That's because their thinner and more fragile vaginal lining can easily tear during penetration, allowing pathogens to enter the bloodstream. And new research indicates that older women are at risk of getting infected with HPV, which can give rise to genital warts or cervical cancer.

The message is this: If you're dating and sexually active, please use condoms, whatever your age. Men complain to me that it makes sex less pleasurable, especially when erections are less reliable. Women insist that they're not at risk and they would be embarrassed to insist on condoms. Haven't we heard variations on these objections from youth? Isn't this one area where we can learn from experience and our own good sense?

Friday, August 24, 2007

Question for International Viewers

I see that this blog is attracting visitors not only from the United States but also from all over the world. My last 100 visitors, for example, included viewers from India, Africa, Sweden, Australia, Spain, England, France, Malaysia, Austria, Greece, Switzerland, Belgium and Turkey. (Don't worry -- I can't tell who you are or where you live beyond just the region where your computer resides.)

I'd love to hear from my international viewers about where you're from, why you visited this blog, and how your country views older age sexuality. You can either comment here or send me an email, with permission to post your answer.

Thank you!

-- Joan

Funny or Offensive? Please tell me.

Of course yesterday's New England Journal of Medicine report on senior sexuality prompted not only a respectful and informative media blast, but also the kind of stereotypical response we've come to expect, such as "Senior Sex Study Shows Nana and Papa Still Getting It On"
by Ted Gay. An excerpt from Gay's satirical site:

Jane Stacy, a ninety-four-year-old paraplegic who is cared for by her husband, Van, said that their love life was sparked after she showered and he placed her in her chair to dry and fell face down in her twat.“I said, ‘as long as you’re down there, Van, tend to the clitoris,’ which I was most happy to say he did,” Jane said.When he was asked what Jane tasted like, Van shrugged his shoulders and said, “Depends.”

Is this funny? I know, Postcards is a satirical site, and it even says, "the editorial content on this page is fictional. It is presented for entertainment purposes only. We cannot be held responsible for the actions of anyone who takes this sort of thing seriously." What I'm bothered by is that the elderly seem be fair game for ridicule, and that's what I don't like.

Am I oversensitive when I say this is the kind of senior sex stereotyping and putdown that I resent? Should I just laugh, as I'm sure Gay intended? Or is this just one more example of our society's view of elders as pathetic and ludicrous if they enjoy and/or desire sex?

What do you think? Please tell me.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

New England Journal of Medicine: Seniors having sex despite "bothersome problems"

When the news splashed all over the media today that older adults are, indeed, having sex, my first reaction was to laugh and say, "Duhhh!" The idea that senior sex is alive seemed to me as much a news story as the revelation that most people find feet at the end of their legs!

But there was much more to the story. "A Study of Sexuality and Health among Older Adults in the United States," published today in the New England Journal of Medicine, was a major study of 3005 U.S. adults (1550 women and 1455 men) 57 to 85 years of age which revealed some fascinating facts and a few surprises:

The majority of older adults are sexually active and regard sexuality as an important part of life. The prevalence of sexual activity declines with age, yet a substantial number of men and women engage in vaginal intercourse, oral sex, and masturbation even in the eighth and ninth decades of life.

The frequency of sexual activity reported by sexually active older adults (age 57+) is similar to the frequency reported among adults 18 to 59 years of age.

The study reported that 78% of men 75 to 85 years of age, as compared with 40% of women in this age group, had a spousal or intimate relationship. Since women live longer, and on average, older men marry younger women, this disparity can be accounted for by the lack of available men for the older single women.

The sexually active people in the oldest age group interviewed -- 75 to 85 years of age -- reported having sex at least two to three times per month, and 23% reported having sex once a week or more.

About half of the sexually active men and women reported at least one "bothersome sexual problem," and almost one third reported having multiple problems. The women's most prevalent sexual problems were low desire, difficulty with vaginal lubrication, inability to climax, finding sex not pleasurable , and pain, usually during entry. The most prevalent sexual problems for men were erectile difficulty (14% of all men interviewed reported using medication or supplements to improve sexual function), lack of interest in sex, climaxing too quickly, anxiety about performance, and inability to climax.

About one quarter of sexually active older adults with a sexual problem reported avoiding sex as a consequence.

Most surprising, given the extent of these problems that prevented sex from being satisfying or pleasurable, was this fact:

Only 38% of men and 22% of women reported having discussed sex with a physician since the age of 50.

The study suggests that the reasons for poor communication include the unwillingness of both patients and physicians to talk about sex and the gender and age differences between patients and their physicians.

Negative societal attitudes about women’s sexuality and sexuality at older ages may also inhibit such discussions.

When I give workshops and talks, both women and men frequently bring up physical problems that affect their sexuality and want me to provide a solution. I always say, "Please get a diagnosis from your doctor." I emphasize that the problem may be caused by retreating hormones, or by an underlying health condition that you don't know you have, or a medication, or interactions of medications. You can't treat a problem until you know what's causing it.

As the NEJM article states,

Sexual problems may be a warning sign or consequence of a serious underlying illness such as diabetes, an infection, urogenital tract conditions, or cancer. Undiagnosed or untreated sexual problems, or both, can lead to or occur with depression or social withdrawal. Patients may discontinue needed medications because of side effects that affect their sex lives, and medications to treat sexual problems can also have negative health effects, yet physician–patient communication about sexuality is poor.

I invite your comments!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

"Today 80 is the new 60," octagenarians study sex

The wonderful people at A Woman's Touch Sexuality Resource Center in Madison, WI, run a summer school about sexuality for seniors which was recently covered by StorybridgeTV. To view the TV segment, click "play." (You may need to hear the opening sentence a few times as it loads -- be patient.) You'll hear feisty comments by the elders taking the class, and tips from Myrtle Wilhite M.D. M.S., co-owner of A Woman's Touch.

As the show's promo says, "If you don't think octagenarians are interested in sex, you could learn a thing or two from this class. After you watch this story, you'll never look at aging the same way again. And that's a good thing!"

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Woman tolerates husband's sexual advances, how to tell him what she wants?

A reader who calls herself "Hot Momma Frigid Lover" posted a comment on another post which contained a point that was so important that I decided to comment on it here. Here are excerpts from her comment:

... I have never had that much pleasure in sex... My husband, on the other hand, has had a very healthy sexual drive and I had a mother who taught me to be sensitive to that drive and take care of his needs. So...well...we have had a good marriage for 32 years.

... I am starting to resent his advances a little more. Not that I don't want to give him pleasure any more but that he does so little to actually 'earn' it. He has always gone for my breasts as an 'invitation' to give him some sexual attention. Since I prefer sleep over sex, grabbing at my breasts is a rude awakening and definitely does not awaken any sexual desire.

I think I know what might help him to arouse me in a more romantic way but how can I tell this man (that I love so much) that he just doesn't turn me on!

Here is what I wish he could learn from someone or somewhere else. If I am asleep (or if he thinks I am ...lots of times I am pretending hoping he will arouse me awake)...I would love a good back massage. Some kisses on the back of my neck, some full body hugs (that don't include his hand on any part of my sexual annatomy)some physical contact that says "I love you" before it says "I need sex". In fact I wouldn't mind hearing the words "I love you" that can be very inviting.

How can I help him to 'learn' this stuff without me having to teach him. Most of the information I have found is for help with sex itself ... I am not interested in sexual pleasure...I just want a little physical love and attention before I give him the "sex" he needs.

I implore you, please talk to your husband about what would turn you on or at least make you feel receptive to sexual intimacy. Surely he would LOVE to know this! Instead of asking how to tell him that he doesn't turn you on (that would be devastating to hear), why not tell him what you DO want from him?

If that seems really difficult to you, start by requesting the back massage, and let that turn into sexual intimacy if it feels right. Then, when you're in a neutral situation (walking in the park, or sitting over coffee, not in bed), try saying to him, "It really makes me feel relaxed and loved when you give me a back massage/kiss me/ hug me for no reason. I love it when you do that."

He needs to hear from you what you like and want from him, because he's certainly getting the message that you're not enjoying his sexual advances. Give him the opportunity to please you and show you his love.

I invite other readers to talk about what has worked to open communication in your relationships.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Woman, 58, "heavier size," wonders how to attract men

"Sassy" wrote me and asked,

How does one who is 58 almost 59, on the heavier size find someone who would want to go out with her… other than married men?? I do not want to ever get involved with a married man. I’ve been hurt because someone else has stepped in and has taken my man and I don’t ever want to do that to anyone!

Sassy, I don't know why you think your options are limited to married men, just because you see yourself as heavy. Some single men are looking for slim women, yes, but many prefer women on the curvier side, and still others are looking for an emotional and intellectual connection that isn't restricted to a particular waist size.

If the problem is, however, that your weight makes you feel unattractive, that might be what's getting in the way of you attracting the men who interest you. We all have an intuitive sense when someone feels undesirable and self-critical, and that's not a come-hither quality. Please look at whether you're happy at your weight. If not, there are ways to change that. (You'll see on my website that I've written several books about fitness and have recommendations of both books and videos for people who would like to get in better shape.) If you are happy the way you are, walk proudly with a swing in your step and a twinkle in your eye, and show the world that you know you're got a lot to offer.

Since you brought up not wanting to get involved with a married man -- there's a terrific book out now: The Other Woman: 21 Wives and Lovers Talk Openly about Sex,Deception, Love, and Betrayal, edited by Victoria Zackheim. Some of the essays reflect the point of view of the "other woman," others are the wives suffering through their husbands' affairs. The book is strong, stark, and honest.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

What Boomers Want in the Bedroom

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Julie Taylor for Baby Boomer Love: What Baby Boomers Want in the Bedroom for Personals.

Julie polled "experts and seasoned daters to discover the top three things men and women over 50 desire these days," and here's what she discovered:

What She Wants…
1. Fabulous foreplay
2. To get their sexy back
3. More emotional intimacy

What He Wants…
1. Passionate positive reinforcement
2. Less pressure to be the best ever
3. More surprises in the sack

Do you agree that these are the top three for women and men? I welcome your comments.

To read Julie's article, click here.