Senior Power:Sex and the Senior Citizen

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Tuesday September 14, 2010 - 11:43:00 AM

“I just love Sleeping Beauty! The music, the sets, the costumes. It's so romantic!” declares Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw… “You only like it because she sleeps for a hundred years and doesn't age” responds chum Stanford Blatch. 

Years ago, “Intimacy, love and friendship after 50” was the subject of one of the courses offered by a Bay Area community college with the goal of “mainstreaming” seniors. (Did seniors want to be in the mainstream? Do they now?) “Contemporary moral issues” and “Freud and the neo-Freudians” were also on the menu. 

In their fifties, some people may experience a reawakening of sexual interest because they no longer need to prevent pregnancy, and the pressures of child rearing are past. Sexual problems are not necessarily a natural, irreversible part of aging. It is important to distinguish among the effects of the aging process itself, hormonal changes as women go through menopause, and illness, disability and relationship difficulties. 

What about impotence and older men? By their mid-to-late fifties, one of four is impotent. By their mid-to-late sixties more then half are impotent, and by their mid-seventies most are impotent. In March 1999, Viagra exploded onto the market, and in 2006, one of every four men was taking it. Viagra has a high effective rate. It works in 90% of sexual dysfunctional cases that have biological causes and has a 60-70% effectiveness rate overall. 

Sildenafil citrate, sold as Viagra and various trade names, is a drug used to treat erectile dysfunction and pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH). It was developed and is being marketed by Pfizer pharmaceutical company. It acts by inhibiting an enzyme that regulates blood flow in the penis. Since becoming available in 1998, sildenafil has been the prime treatment for erectile dysfunction. 

Avis Yarbrough in Health & Wellness reported on “STDs and AIDS in Senior Citizens”( There is a widely held belief that as you get older, your sex drive diminishes. But the invention of Viagra has made this not the case. She provided these data: Venereal diseases are spreading more than ever among senior citizens. People age 50 and older make up more than 10 percent of total AIDS cases in this country, and HIV cases are increasing among people in their 60’s and 70’s according to the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It has been reported that during the last decade, the number of HIV cases has risen 500 percent among senior citizens, and AIDS cases among over-50 people have risen from 16,00 in 1975 to 90,00 in 2003. Currently, nearly 27 percent of people living with AIDS in America are 50 and older. 

Leonard Hayflick, in his popular “How and why we age,” describes changes in sexual activity. Relative frequency of sexual activity does not change with age-- the men who are most sexually active in their seventies were also highly active sexually in their twenties. A slightly higher level of testosterone is present in men who are more sexually active. Sexual activity decreases with age despite maintenance of normal levels of sex hormones. Enlargement of the prostate gland is common in men over age 60; it is unrelated to the amount of sexual activity, number of sexual partners, or length or stability or marriage.  

“If there is one style of consciousness that will surely have to change radically in the elder culture, it is that of the alpha male,” writes Berkeley author Theodore Roszak in his new book, “The making of an elder culture.” In speaking of the end of sex (Chapter 9, ‘Love, loyalty, and the end of sex,’ ) he is using end in the sense of a goal, rather than a finish. 


Columnist Carrie Bradshaw observes: “When you're young, your whole life is about the pursuit of fun. Then, you grow up and learn to be cautious. You could break a bone or a heart. You look before you leap and sometimes you don't leap at all because there's not always someone there to catch you. And in life, there's no safety net. When did it stop being fun and start being scary?” 

Why are senior citizens contracting STD’s or HIV? They did not come of age when sex education was being taught in public schools, and they are likely to be uninformed about Aids and HIV and how to protect themselves. Due to divorce or a partner dying, they now find themselves dating again and are unfamiliar or not used to protecting themselves. A lot of older men date more then one woman at a time. Some older women, no longer able to get pregnant, see no need to use any type of birth control, which includes condoms. 

Sexual abuse is one of the several types or forms of elder abuse. It includes molestation, rape, sex acts and sexual touching as well as such things as showing an elderly person pornographic material, forcing him/her to watch sex acts, or forcing the elder to undress. Watch for torn or bloody clothing, unexplained venereal disease or genital infections, or genital or anal pain, itching, bruising, bleeding. Be aware that some seniors will be too embarrassed to report this, they may have received threats, or if they suffer from some form of dementia, they might not even recall that the sexual abuse took place. Sexual abuse of an elder often constitutes domestic violence. The elder abuse site at is worth checking out. 


Good news: “Senior entertainment back in the black.” Other media comments about 2008’s “Cloud 9” (“Wolke Neuin”) include “A story of new love in old age,” “German romantic drama,” “seniors sex dramedy”, and “critical raves and a clever marketing campaign aimed at geezers turned Andreas Dresen’s ’Cloud 9’ into a certified sleeper.” (Berkeley Public Library dvd; English subtitles. Note: This is not the 2006 Burt Reynolds “Cloud 9” motion picture. Far from it.) 

Here's what the future might hold if you're lucky: being naked and old and making ecstatic love in a sun-drenched room. Karl (Horst Westphal), 76, is unattached, 60ish. Grandmother Inge (award-winning Ursula Werner) is married to Werner (Horst Rehberg), and they care for each other. Inge's affair with Karl and the inevitable confrontation. Several scenes take place in a senior center-like environment. Ursula is shown singing with what Werner refers to as “your women’s chorus.” The lyrics are metaphoric for her love life. The ending might be predictable, but it shows that you're never too old to enjoy the bliss of love — or suffer its pains. 


Attention, candidates… Running for election in the November election? You are invited to email to Senior Power ( a statement of your “platform” in regard to senior citizens, e.g. housing, health, transportation. If you are running for re-election, please describe the highlights of your record on issues important to seniors. Keep in mind that Early Voting begins on Monday, October 4, 2010.