Horny old broads, dirty old men. These commonly used terms speak volumes about how society views older people who are interested in sex. Experts say such derogatory labels reflect a deep level of discomfort in our youth-oriented culture with the idea that seniors are sexually active. Sex is identified with reproduction, youthful attractiveness, and power -- and most young and even middle-aged people do not want to confront the inevitability of growing old.
So sexual intimacy among older Americans is a subject that people don't talk about much. The silence, say experts, allows misconceptions to flourish -- including the widespread assumption that seniors lose interest in sex and are, or should be, asexual. But armed with a spate of studies that help dispel the myth that older people don't have sex or enjoy it, experts say the negative stereotypes couldn't be farther from the truth.
While the frequency or ability to perform sexually will generally decline modestly as seniors experience the normal physiological changes that accompany aging, reports show that the majority of men and women between the ages of 50 and 80 are still enthusiastic about sex and intimacy.
Bortz, 70, author of three books on healthy aging as well as several studies on seniors' sexuality. A Duke University study shows that some 20 percent of people over 65 have sex lives that are better than ever before, he adds. And although not everyone wants or needs an active sex life, many people continue to be sexual all their lives.
It's a matter of survival," says Dr. Married people live longer. The more intimate the connection, the more powerful the effects. Such judgmental attitudes prevent many older people from moving in with each other or even having their partner over, according to Dr. Jack Parlow, a retired clinical psychologist in Toronto. The topic may well lose some of its taboo status, however, as the baby boom generation enters its later years.
With their increased numbers and a marked increase in life expectancy, older adults are now the fastest-growing segment of the US population.
By the year , it is estimated that one in every five Americans will be 65 or over. That's what kept my husband alive for so long when he was sick. We had excellent sex, and any kind, at any time of day we wanted. They occasionally have sex, but mostly they enjoy each other's company, she says.
So we just have sex in a different way -- I don't mind at all -- and we're also very affectionate. He says it's so nice to wake up next to me. Her experience bolsters experts' contention that patterns of sexuality are set earlier in life. They also note that the biological changes associated with aging are less pronounced and sexuality is less affected if sexual activity is constant throughout life. Wellborn and her husband were deeply in love, she says.
After the children left home and her husband retired, the couple had more freedom to express their sexuality. She says that she and her husband had sex three to four times a week when the children lived at home; once they were alone they made love almost every day.
If you've had a good loving man and a good sexual life, you'll miss it terribly if you stop. I've had everything from a cancer operation to shingles, and I'm still sexually active. One advantage of growing older is that personal relationships can take on increased importance as children and careers take a backseat.
Seniors can devote more time and energy to improving their love lives. And while some seniors may be forced to give up strenuous sports, sex is a physical pleasure many older people readily enjoy. A clear majority of men and women age 45 and up say a satisfying sexual relationship is important to the quality of life, according to a survey by the AARP the organization formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons.
Among to year-olds with sexual partners, some 56 percent said they had sexual intercourse once a week or more. Among to year-olds with partners, 46 percent of men and 38 percent of women have sex at least once a week, as did 34 percent of those 70 or older. The study found that nearly half of all Americans age 60 or over have sex at least once a month and that nearly half also wanted to have sex more frequently.
As for making love, it just gets better with age, according to Cornelia Spindel, 75, who married her husband Gerald when she was They met when Gerry Spindel took his wife, who was dying of Alzheimer's, to a kosher nutrition program where Cornelia, a widow, worked as a volunteer. The two gradually became close friends, and after his wife's death, became intimate. When Gerald proposed, she accepted with pleasure. Now, Cornelia says, "We feel like young lovers or newlyweds.
I felt like I was able to make love better when I was 30 than when I was 20, and now I have a whole lifetime of experience. Our love life is very warm. Experts say these changes are not usually a barrier to enjoying a healthy sex life, but couples may have to take more time for arousal.
Postmenopausal women, for example, have lower levels of the hormone estrogen, which in turn decreases vaginal lubrication and elasticity. In many cases, dryness can be relieved by something as simple as using a water-based lubricant like KY Jelly. Doctors can offer other remedies for more difficult cases. Men may suffer from impotence or have more difficulty achieving and sustaining erections as their blood circulation slows and testosterone levels decrease.
Impotence is also more prevalent in men who have a history of heart disease, hypertension, or diabetes. Now, however, sildenafil citrate Viagra , vardenafil Levitra , and tadalafil Cialis have aided some older men who weren't helped by other treatments. Some experts, in fact, worry that these drugs may cause an upsurge in AIDS in people over 50, because they are not likely to take precautions; they urge older people who are dating to practice safe sex.
Some studies also suggest that the supplement ginkgo biloba, which increases circulation, can help treat impotence, but others show no such effect. Men should always check with their doctors before taking it. Among other things, ginkgo can interact with anticoagulants to cause a stroke. Despite these hopeful prognoses, studies show that only a fraction of the seniors who could be treated for sexual problems actually seek medical help.
That's too bad, experts say, because even serious medical conditions need not prevent elders from having a satisfying sex life.
Seniors should see a physician if they've lost interest in sex or are having sexual difficulties. Some sedatives, most antidepressants, excessive alcohol, and some prescription drugs have side effects that interfere with sex; a doctor can help adjust medication or set guidelines on alcohol intake.
Illnesses, disabilities, and surgeries can also affect sexuality, but in general, even disease need not interfere with sexual expression. The partner gap The physical changes that occur with age can give older people a chance to revitalize their lovemaking by focusing more on intimacy and closeness instead of sex alone. Often less preoccupied with performance, they can express their affection and closeness in other ways, such as cuddling, kissing, and stroking. With a grown son still living at home, he says he makes love less often than he'd like but still enjoys it very much.
Sex becomes more a matter of choice and is more interesting and intriguing for each partner," he says. But among older women who are widowed, divorced, or single, finding a partner can be difficult. According to several reports, women make up the majority of the elderly without partners.
Older women are also judged by society as less attractive than their male counterparts, a double standard that women's groups have long decried. This "partner gap" greatly inhibits women's social and sexual activity as they reach their senior years.
In the AARP study, only 32 percent of women 70 or older have partners, compared with 59 percent of men in the same age group. In the NCOA study, older men are more likely than older women to be married and have sex partners. For men, "biology or hydraulics" is the biggest impediment to sex later in life, says Dr. Widowed after two year marriages, she finds herself single again.
Missing male companionship, she has gone out on blind dates and actively sought out partners through dating services and personal ads -- an exercise, she says, in "futility and frustration. Sexuality at Midlife and Beyond: Middle and Old Age. What's Age Got to do With It?