Thursday, September 27, 2007

Talking about condoms with a new partner

Some of my women readers, newly in the dating game after divorce or death of a spouse, tell me that they feel uncomfortable asking a new partner to use a condom. "If I ask a man to use a condom, it sounds like I don't trust him," they say. "If I have them on hand myself, he'll think I sleep around."

My belief is that if you can't talk about safer sex with someone, you really shouldn't be inviting that person to be an intimate partner! But I know it's hard, especially if you've been in a long-term relationship and suddenly find yourself out in that scary world of dating, sex with new partners, and the risks that weren't a part of our zesty youth.

I recommend never waiting until the heat of passion to bring up the subject. Instead, when the sparks and kisses signal that sex is likely in your future, have the discussion. Then you've agreed to be prepared when you're ready for the next stage.

In my single past, these were some useful ways to approach the subject:

"I always use condoms with a new partner to protect us both."

"I'll buy the condoms -- do you prefer a special kind?

"Your condoms or mine?"

I've had occasions when a man refused, saying something like, "Sex with condoms interferes with my enjoyment."

I would reply, "Is no sex more enjoyable?"

At this point, of course, I knew the date was over, and I was glad to know in advance that he didn't value my sexual health or his own. If he was willing to go to bed with me without protection, then he did that with his last partners, and they did it with their last partners, and so on.

I don't claim that I used a condom with everyone all the time when I was single. In my younger days, the STDs we were likely to contract were either visible or could be cured with a prescription drug. But I got smarter with age, and became more demanding of barrier protection. If I knew someone well already, someone who had become a good friend, and I knew about his relationships and his sexual health status, we would get blood tests, and then feel comfortable about condomless sex. But that took deep discussions and friendship.

Let me hear from you -- what do/would you say to bring up the subject of condom use?

(photo of Miriam Schuler, known as "Condom Grandma" in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where she volunteers in the Senior HIV Intervention Project.)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Irritated reader: Why no"Sex for One" info here?

Gratitude, a frequent comment contributor, said this in a comment on another post, and it was a valuable wake-up call to me:

I find myself irritated once again at the prejudice of this blog in favor of couples. Versions of this statement, “Sex is two minds, two bodies, and two hearts making love....” have been repeated and implied over and over in the articles here. While this may be true for many or even most people, the message comes across loud and clear: Sex is for couples only.

I have just searched the archives and don’t find one single post on this website dealing specifically with sex for one and how this can be a way of expressing love for yourself.

I'm surprised at myself for this omission, and I'd like to assure Gratitude (and the rest of you) that I'm absolutely in favor of "sex for one," and I've written about solo sex extensively in Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex after Sixty, with chapters on staying sensual and sexy without a partner, choosing and enjoying sex toys, and maintaining vaginal health. I apologize for the absence of this message here so far!

In the next book, in fact, I have stories from a number of women who are enjoying staying sensual and satisfied without a partner and are willing to describe how they stay zesty. (The single men I hear from are not so satisfied with being unpartnered.)

I'll write more about this in a later post -- for now, I hope you'll enjoy Better Than I Ever Expected and continue to comment and email me.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Faking Orgasm: Why?

I've been reading Flings, Frolics, and Forever Afters: A Single Woman’s Guide to Romance after Fifty by Katherine E. Chaddock & Emilie Chaddock Egan (Ten Speed Press, 2005). This self-help action plan for finding romance gives advice applicable to singles of any age who want to enter (or re-enter) the dating scene, with just a few tips specifically targeted to our age group, such as getting your adult children to accept that you’re dating again.

Though the section on sex is only one chapter, it's a long chapter, and very specific, including the need for safer sex. Most of the advice is okay -- though of course not as splendid as in Better Than I Ever Expected -- but I really didn’t like the command to “have an orgasm: real or fake” and the explanation that it’s harmless and "it will make him feel great." I don't think so! What man would feel great knowing his partner just faked an orgasm? Oh, I forgot -- the point is that he wouldn't know. That's so manipulative that I shudder. And how would it help your future sex life, if he thinks he's figured out how to set off your personal fireworks and will keep repeating a technique that actually didn't do it for you?

I also didn't like the suggestion to sneak off to the bathroom to apply a lubricant. "You want him to think you are juiced because of him, not because of a gel in a tube." Boo. There's nothing to be ashamed of if we no longer lubricate freely, if our hormonally deprived bodies don't match our emotional juiciness. Make applying a lubricant part of the love play and ask your partner to do it for you, and it can be very sexy. Each time one of you reaches for the bottle of Liquid Silk, you both know what's about to happen. So much sexier than running into the bathroom and returning suddenly (and artificially) moist!

Here's the bottom line, as far as I'm concerned: If you can’t communicate honestly with a partner what you need for comfortable, pleasurable sex and what you need to reach orgasm, what are you doing in bed with this person?

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

73-yr-old man pleases wife with "ten fingers and a tongue"

A reader who wants to call himself "Buttonbob" sent me this email:

I am a 73 year old male. For the past few years I have been using Viagra. I must confess that most of the time it didn't do the trick. But an old friend of mine reminded me that I had ten fingers and a tongue.

I found to my surprise that my lady didn't need intercourse and was more than happy to settle for hugging and oral touching and caressing. Once over the shock I discovered I began to enjoy the touching and caressing even more, My advice to others is get over the idea that intercourse is the end all. Enjoy your close relationship with your spouse that touching and hugging can give.

This is a subject that comes up over and over. Many men think that intercourse is the goal of sex, and that if they have erectile difficulties, they might as well give it up. Not true! Sex is two minds, two bodies, and two hearts making love -- not just two sets of genitals! There are many ways to please a partner without intercourse, and this reader is right on track with "ten fingers and a tongue"!

I welcome your comments.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Looking for "Granny Sex"?

OK, I have to ask you -- if you arrived at this site because you typed "granny sex" into your search engine, what were you hoping or expecting to find? I'm sincerely curious! Were you hoping to find an affirmation of older-age sexuality? (if so, you're in the right place!) Or did you use those search words because you're intrigued by what your grandmother might be doing behind closed doors? Or because you expect to get a giggle from a site that makes fun of elder sex? I'm just wondering... I hope you'll comment!

If you're wondering why I'm asking this, it turns out that many people arrive here because they searched "granny sex." Far more of you search by "sexy seniors" or "senior sex" or "sex after sixty," and that makes sense. But this "granny sex" idea puzzles me, and I hope you'll respond! (You can either click "comments" below or email me, your choice.

2/6/08 update: As readers continue to use "granny sex" in emails to me and comments on this blog, as well as the search words that bring you here, I've come to understand that the term is not meant disrespectfully. In fact, a few of you have written me using "granny sex" quite lovingly. Is this term used outside the US more commonly than it is here, I wonder...?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Lock Up Our Genitals: Security Device for (Female) Sexual Organs

Just when I thought (a) I'd seen it all and (b) we were making social progress, I happen upon a site showing the application for a patent for "Security Underwear Device for Sexual Organs." A new take on the old chastity belt, this is a "sexual armor" device that covers the female genitalia and anus (with openings just large enough to permit excretion) to prevent rape and the spread of AIDs and other STDs. The key or combination is not given to the wearer, so that she can't be coerced to give it to the rapist or opportunist. Oh, dear.

August 2009 update: I've discovered that is no longer a live link, so I've removed it.

HBO Tell Me You Love Me is Senior-Sex Positive!

Tell Me You Love Me has the media abuzz this week, mainly because the new HBO series bares it all with graphic sex. I'm applauding because -- at least in episode #1 -- it shows the most positive portrayal of seniors in love and having good sex that I've seen on television.

As an advocate for older-age sexuality, I'm thrilled by the portrayal of the older couple, therapist Dr. May Foster (Jane Alexander) and her husband Arthur (David Selby). Both are handsome people, but realistically handsome, without Botox-paralyzed facial muscles or taut facelifted cheekbones. These are real people, beautiful specimens of age 60+, to be sure, but so much more realistic than the aged (and not so aged) Hollywood and TV stars whose faces barely move. How refreshing!

The younger couples in the show are frenetic in their dialogue and sex play, while the oldest couple is gentle, knowing, connecting in a special way, both sexually and in daily life. When Alexander gently removes Selby's book from his hands and edges down his body to arouse him with oral sex, I cheered.

I hope the writers don't mess with this positive message that sex and relationships get better with age.

Did you see this show? How do you feel about it?

Added 9/18/07: Now that I've watched three episodes, I'm disappointed in this show. I still love that the 60+-yr-old therapist and her husband have such a loving and sexy relationship, but the other couples are so strident and unpleasant (especially to each other!) that I feel let down by the writers. They have problems in their relationships, we got the point -- do we have to keep reliving this with them without any progress?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Intimacy after prostate surgery

Several readers have posted and emailed me about sex and intimacy after prostate surgery. I asked Anne Katz , RN PhD, author of Breaking the Silence on Cancer and Sexuality: A Handbook for Health Care Providers and sexuality counselor at CancerCare Manitoba in Winnipeg, Manitoba, to respond to a common question:

Ever since my husband had his prostate removed because of prostate cancer, he has been reluctant to touch me. This is so upsetting. I love him very much and don’t know what to do.

It is common for men to be unable to have an erection after this surgery. Depending on the type of surgery (nerve sparing or not), his ability to have erections may or may not return. Many men are deeply distressed by this and may avoid all physical contact with their partner so as not to “lead them on” or disappoint them. This leads to a very unhappy partner who wants to express his/her love and support but feels cut off and cut out.

What is important is for the couple to TALK. It is often really difficult to talk about a sensitive topic when emotions are running high. But talking goes a long way to healing and connecting. Start with an “I” statement: “I miss touching you and being touched by you. How can we reconnect again?” Or perhaps: “I love you so much and want our relationship to be the way it was before the surgery. What can WE do to help this happen?”

While there are medications and treatments that may help, further treatment should be a couple’s decision and the man should always include his partner in medical appointments so that both people can express themselves and have their questions answered. Because communication is so important, the couple may need professional help to start the communication flowing. But seeking help is the first step.

For more posts about cancer and sexuality, please click "cancer" in the "labels" list in the right-hand column.

Is this helpful? Let me know what questions you'd like me to explore as we age and encounter physical and emotional challenges to our sexuality.


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Tips for reclaiming sexuality after a health event

Many readers have reported concerns about how to reclaim their sexuality after a heart attack, cancer, or other health event. I asked licensed psychologist and sex therapist Stephanie Buehler, Psy.D., to provide some tips for the new book I'm writing. Her information was so valuable that I didn't want you to have to wait for the book:

1. Speak to your physician about when you can resume sex and what kinds of limitations you might expect or need to work around. If you are uncomfortable talking about it with the physician, perhaps you can bring it up to the nurse. Nurses are often interested in helping patients achieve an optimal quality of life, and are trained to educate patients as well.

2. If neither your physician nor the nurse is sexually savvy, then contact whatever organization is associated with your disease. For example, both the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society publish booklets on sexuality and illness.

3. Broaden your ideas about what constitutes “sex” after an illness event. Sex is more than intercourse. Count holding hands and cuddling as sex, and you and your partner might feel less disappointed or glum.

4. If you are the person affected with a health problem, don’t conclude that if your partner isn’t bringing up sex, it is no longer important. Your partner may not want to intrude or make demands and is waiting for a sign of readiness from you.

5. If you are the partner of the person with a health problem, accompany your partner to a physician’s visit to discuss sexual effects of any surgery or treatment. Educate yourself so that you can be a support to your partner, and so that you and your partner can discuss how to go forward.

6. If you had sexual problems before the illness event, now might be a good opportunity to address them. It may be that your health problem contributed to your sexual problem. Again, discuss this with your physician or nurse.

7. If you are having trouble resuming satisfying sexual activity, consider seeing a sex therapist. A sex therapist can help you identify obstacles and give you information and suggestions. Sometimes there can be deeper problems, like facing the fact that you are not invincible, that can also be addressed with a therapist.

Stephanie Buehler, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist and sex therapist, and Director of The Buehler Institute in Irvine, California. Visit her blog about sex and intimacy.

Note: You can locate a sex therapist in your area through AASECT, American Association of Sexuality Educators Counselors & Therapists.)

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

ABC: Seniors Get It On

There's a terrific interview on ABC News with sex therapist Laura Berman, LCSW, Ph.D., about the New England Journal of Medicine study. Berman gives an overview of the findings and comments on the important messages, such as the importance of sex throughout life, medical implications, and resources for help.

I loved the many visuals of older people hugging, kissing, and smiling romantically at each other. Ah, it's about time we got to see this reality! Check it out. (You may have to navigate several obtrusive ads as you try to view the video clip.)