SENIOR POWER: Sexuality… It’s a good thing.

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Thursday April 18, 2013 - 05:32:00 PM

“Of all the passions, the old man should avoid a foolish passion for women,” advised The Old Man’s Guide to Health and Longer life with rules for diet, exercise, and physic for preserving a good constitution and preventing disorders in a bad one, by J. Hill, M.D., member of the Imperial Academy (1764). John Hill (1714-1775) also opined that to marry was everyone’s duty, except for the aged.  

A double standard of sexual behavior still exists, particularly among middle-aged and older people. This is about sexuality. Not sex, as in female/male sex; not gender, as in feminine/masculine gender. And sometimes, as in love. 

“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,” wrote Berkeley author Theodore Roszak in his 2009 book, “The making of an elder culture.” In speaking of the end of sex (Chapter 9, ‘Love, loyalty, and the end of sex,’) he was using ‘end’ in the goal sense, rather than a finish. 


Robert Neil Butler (1927-2010) was a gerontologist and psychiatrist, a lead investigator of one of the first interdisciplinary, comprehensive, longitudinal studies of healthy community-residing older persons. He founded the National Institute on Aging and the first U.S. medical school geriatrics department. He died of leukemia in 2010 at age 83. 

His Why Survive? Being Old In America won a 1976 Pulitzer Prize. On page 396 he snuck in a footnote that suggests the main reason that universities, foundations and even the National Institute of Mental Health “cannot easily support studies of love affairs, which are so common in practice and which, as a clinician, one sees so frequently. This is an instance of one of the real issues of human life that is not subjected to study because it is so freighted with societal mores, conflicting feelings and repressive tendencies. I have known wives who have urged their impotent husbands to have affairs in hopes that it would cure them, and husbands who want frigid wives to do the same.” 

“We are in the midst of a longevity revolution… What is needed now is a revolution in our thinking about what it means to be older. Attitudes toward love and sex are a good place to start!” Butler and Myrna I. Lewis, Ph.D. prefaced The New Love and Sex After 60. Their aim was to bring people the latest data on the dynamic subject as they grow older, e.g. erectile dysfunction. “The phallocentric era of sexual research with a focus mainly on male erectile capacity is giving way to equal curiosity about women and the conditions that interfere with their sexual expression.” They conclude “… How can we take full advantage of our added thirty years of life expectancy? One way is to recognize that love and sex after sixty is no longer a surprise. It is a fact of life.”  

Most men with erectile dysfunction (ED) remain untreated. Undertreatment of ED continues to be common, even though treatments have proven efficacy and quality of life impact. Despite high erectile dysfunction (ED) prevalence, most patients receive no treatment, according to a new United States study, presented in March 2013 at the 28th Annual European Association of Urology Congress. 

The prostate differs considerably among species anatomically, chemically, and physiologically. The Skene's gland, also known as the paraurethral gland, found in females, is homologous [similar] to the prostate gland in males. In 2002, Skene's glands, were officially renamed the female prostate by the Federative International Committee on Anatomical Terminology. The female prostate, like the male prostate, secretes Prostate specific antigen (PSA) and levels of this antigen rise in the presence of carcinoma of the gland. The gland also expels fluid, like the male prostate, during orgasm

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a new drug to treat postmenopausal women who experience pain during sex. The drug Osphena (ospemifene) mimics the effects of estrogen on vaginal tissue, which can become thinner, drier and more fragile from menopause. The pill, taken with food once a day, makes vaginal tissue thicker and less fragile, reducing pain during sexual intercourse (dyspareunia). 


AARP, formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons, is a United States-based non-governmental organization and interest group, founded in 1958. Lately, it has been criticized for functioning as a conglomerate of auto, health, life, and travel insurance companies. AARP Dating claims to be the fastest, easiest, most fun way to go on awesome dates. Its Dating site is powered by the online dating engine HowAboutWe. 

OurTime ranked fifth of the five best dating sites of 2013. “Designed to create lasting relationships or companionship. Search for singles instantly without a membership… Easy to use, especially for seniors new to online dating...” Its claims mislead. A choice of paid plans accompanies a photo of a gray white-haired, bespectacled male with a female who is not. “Designed for Seniors Serious Relationships. OurTime has grown exponentially and has become one of the top online dating sites catering to a more mature population… geared for singles over the age of 50 who are looking for all types of relationships, including marriage, travel companionship and pen pals.”  

Four aged-care experts from academe, writing in the Australian Journal of Dementia Care, advocate sex and intimacy as a normal part of life in an aged-care facility. Every nursing home should have clear policies on sexual expression. Regarding sex for people with dementia, most were reportedly more interested in intimacy than sex.  

Want better sex? Consider getting a new hip or knee, says Mary Ann Oklesson, a Manhattan magazine publisher who had both hips replaced. Arthritic pain walking, exercising, climbing into a taxi had also taken a toll on her sex life. But that changed after hip replacement surgery. “It definitely improved my quality of life, and my love life,” she says, apparently equating sex and love. 

Make the most of life and enjoy every moment was NSW Seniors Week’s theme. Ita Buttrose, 71, Australian of the Year and ambassador for New South Wales Seniors Week, says “There is plenty of evidence that older Australians enjoy an active sex life as much as younger ones do, they are just more discerning.'' Participants in the 2013 NSW Seniors Week program could enjoy an afternoon of creative, cultural and sporting pursuits, gay and lesbian-themed cinema, and learning how to write erotic literature. ''After Fifty Shades of Grey, I think everyone is interested in erotic writing,'' Buttrose said. 

E. L. James is a pseudonym used by English novelist Erika Mitchell (1963- ), author of bestselling “erotic romance novels.” Fifty Shades of Grey (2011) and two successors have sold 65+ million copies worldwide. The trilogy traces the relationship between a female college graduate named Steele, who narrates, and a male business magnate named Grey. Explicitly erotic scenes feature elements of sexual practices involving bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism (BDSM). It set the record as the fastest-selling paperback of all time, surpassing the Harry Potter series. Large print paperbacks are available. A motion picture, screenplay by Kelly Marcel, is said to be “under development.” 

Critical reception of the novel has been mixed. Fifty Shades… didn’t catch my attention sufficiently to pursue its two successors. Too much panting, groaning, moaning… boring. It caught my attention in places, but so might a vibrator. 

More than one-third of men aged 70+ are still sexually active, according to the Monash Institute of Medical Research. A study published in the Medical Journal of Australia found a quarter of married women over age 76 still had sex. Are these comparative statistics valid and reliable? The men’s marital status apparently was not considered relevant, and what about the age 70-76 women?  

Dr. Patricia Weerakoon, a Sydney sex educator, gives Sexy and 60-Plus' presentations in retirement villages. She says the children of the sexual revolution were much more comfortable with intimacy than previous generations. Today's older people are able to keep active, and being sexually active is part of that. 

Lisa Ling refers in her Huffingtonpost to time she spent in a Boca Raton, Florida retirement community where most residents are widowed. While some people were mourning the loss of their spouses, others were looking to start new relationships. “In fact, what I experienced there had me totally flabbergasted. The candor. The flirtation. The threesomes… yes, that did come up in the Sex Over 60 class.” 

Reading and discussion can help prevent seniors’ cognitive decline. Can you envision a Fifty Shades of Grey discussion group --or any book discussion group-- or a Sex Over 60 class in local senior centers and housing projects? A Seniors Week might be tolerated.