SexIs (written as Cherry Trifle) - February 16, 2010

Senior Sex

Senior Sex

They can. They should. And they do. Get over it. Why shouldn’t they? Haven’t they earned it, for Pete’s sake? And if nothing else, the prospect of aging does seem far more tolerable if oral’s still on the table.

TMI Alert!

As my Eden colleague, the Bloggess, astutely observed in a recent AIDS-related column, there are some things you just can’t make funny. Lucky for me, old people f*cking is not one of them. And good-humored seniors understand that. In fact, when I told my own father—well into his seventies – that my next piece would discuss senior sexuality, he laughed heartily and offered himself up as a source.

Alas, everyone has a TMI threshold, and the passions, pitfalls and predilections of my Daddy’s sex life (happy though I am that he still enjoys one) are well past mine, ensconced in a theoretical dust-covered lockbox in the vast serpentine catacombs of a 13th-Century chateau. That said, I am more than happy to mine the ids of non-relations about the joys and challenges of sex for the aged.

Less Trampy, Tastes Great

The Golden Girls wasn’t that far off,” laughs Jayne, who calls herself “a slightly less trampy Blanche.” Sixty-eight and widowed for two years, she says she waited about a year to get back in the dating pool, although suitors came a’courtin’ before her husband’s body was cold. (Her words, not mine.)

“I was having coffee with a friend a week after the wake and she told me a longtime family friend—he was on my husband’s bowling team—had asked whether or not she thought he had a shot….” She pauses for effect, adding, “By the way, this was at Phil’s funeral.”

The story gave her a much-needed laugh. “And an ego boost. I wasn’t interested in this particular fellow, but it got me thinking maybe I didn’t have to wither away, be lonely, accumulate cats.”

She met Ernie, four years her junior, at a senior social. “He had a big, loud laugh and was a wonderful dancer, and when he put his arms around me I just melted right into them. I wasn’t sure if this guy was looking for something meaningful, but if all he wanted was a roll in the hay I was going to give him one.”

The sex was the best she’d ever had. “I felt a little guilty the first time I admitted that. It felt like I was cheating on Phil.” But, she giggles (not at all unlike some sorority rush in a Girls Gone Wild video) “He got me hot to trot.”

The “Ick” Factor

Does Jayne remind you of your saucy grandma? Can you imagine her delivering Ernie into rapture with a spry and enthusiastic reverse-cowgirl? Have I just ruined your dinner for a week?

Joan Price, who wrote Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex After Sixty, says she still battles what she calls “the ick factor” all the time, “the notion that seniors in wrinkly, saggy bodies engaging in sex is yucky.”

Price, now 66, fell in love with Robert at 57. He was 64 at that time. “We were as passionate as teenagers,” she says, “but the added dimension of decades of experience, self-knowledge and communication skills made it the hottest sex ever, despite our wrinkles and the challenges of—on my part—slow arousal and lack of lubrication. We worked around our challenges and found sexy solutions.”

From the experience came a book she hoped would “challenge our society’s stereotypes … a candid, spicy account of how great sex can be after 60.” Media attention catapulted her into the role of “senior sexpert,” and Price now does regular workshops. Occasionally, there are youngsters in attendance. Some are open to the idea that their parents have a rich sex life, she says.

“They buy the book for their mothers!” she laughs. “But all too often younger people seem to think that sex should be their exclusive domain. I often ask, ‘At what age do you plan to retire your genitals?’”

Daddy’s Little Helper

“Have you ever been with an 18-year-old?” Dave, 61, asked me pointedly.

“Who’s interviewing who?” I laughed. But to be fair, a memory did spring to mind. I was 21. He was 18, hung, and could get it back up as fast as I could put it down—six times total in one night.

“Well,” he said, and I could hear the smile in his voice, “ever since I got the blue pills – that’s me.”

Girlfriend Joanne, 39, happily gave confirmation.

Dave divorced his wife of more than 25 years not quite three years ago. Or rather, she divorced him. “Eighteen months after I filled my first Viagra prescription,” he notes. “It’s not a coincidence.”

For nearly a decade, he started to notice things changing “down there.” His marriage eventually became entirely sexless. “We were still friends, I still loved her, but her drive decreased as she’d gotten older. And then I started having my … issues.”

Even now, with Pfizer-reinforced steel in his boxers, he has trouble saying it out loud.

“Even when I knew I was excited—watching a movie or getting a glimpse of my wife in the shower—I just didn’t get the same feeling down there, the same stir. My d*ck just—stopped moving. And when it did pop up, it wasn’t anything like the erections I’d gotten before. It was depressing. I hate admitting it, but it really did make me feel inadequate.”

Dave was eager when he worked up the nerve to consult a doctor about Viagra; his wife, Liz, far less so. His overtures—no matter how over-the-top romantic—couldn’t inspire the lost passions of his partner. He is not proud, but Dave ended up straying and it cost him his marriage. Mistress Joanne moved up a rung to steady girl.

“Now he can spend the night,” she laughs. “Liz got the house, but I got Dave!”
He maintains an air of easy good humor, a trait not uncommon among men for whom blow jobs are a regular occurrence. “The ex is pretty happy with the deal, too,” he jokes. “She actually looked a little horny at the mediation.”

The Pursuit of Personhood

This morning, I cried watching a training video for nursing home workers. Go ahead, laugh. And no, I’m not PMSing.

You see so far, we’ve been dealing with elders who are independent and cogent. One can only wish a lifetime of such luxuries for us and our loved ones, but often this is not the case. Along with the physical infirmities of aging, conditions such as Alzheimer’s and other memory disorders can tear from us not simply short-term events, but long-cherished memories and even the language that helps us communicate.

That said, seniors in assisted living facilities—be they of sharp faculties or not—do not lose their innate interest in sex. And in 2005, concerned staffers at the Hebrew Home for the Aged in Riverdale, NY, set out to protect the rights of their residents with the first-ever policy for resident sexuality in the nursing home.

The act of residents pairing off—or enjoying self-pleasure—in a nursing home was not news to anyone. “But in residents who had some form of dementia,” says Robin Dessel, director of memory care services at the Hebrew Home, “it was immediately labeled a ‘behavior,’ not a need. And that’s the critical distinction.”

The notion is that providers have to look at clinical-care needs, but also at quality-of-life needs with equal standing. And sex—or at the very least one’s sexuality and its intimacies (kissing, touching, holding, etc.)—is an integral factor in one’s quality of life.

What’s most important for a resident, says Dessel, is their personhood. “As we age, we often lose many opportunities to make adult decisions. Not necessarily the ability, but the opportunity as [in a home] they are often made for you.”

She also speaks pointedly to the issue of companionship. “You are dealing with serial losses by the time you come into a nursing home and the loneliness can be consuming and fearsome. And if you find some camaraderie with a mate, I can’t imagine that there’s a better late-life experience.”

For family members, it can go both ways. Some find it shameful or offensive, perhaps a betrayal to their deceased parent. They worry what other people—even staff members—might think.

So now, about that video: Early in the new millennium, the New York State Department of Health gave the Hebrew Home a grant to create a companion video to their groundbreaking policy. Narrated by Anne Meara, the 16-minute piece meanders through proper procedure for handling various sexual situations that can and do arise in assisted-living facilities using vignettes where actors portray residents both with and without memory disorders.

If such a presentation can have a climax, it came when the daughters of two real residents who had shared an relationship spoke candidly about the happiness they saw come back to their mother and father at the end of their lives and the comfort they took in knowing they’d found someone special with whom to share their time.

“Holding someone to a time and place that they are no longer a part of is a disservice,” says Dessel. “To say they can’t imagine how their parent could connect with someone else after the other parent died? I would hope and pray for it … that my surviving parent would find someone and not be lonely, not have to finish the balance of his life without a partner, a companion, a ‘someone special.’ I think it carries you.”

Author Joan Price would agree. There’s no arbitrary age when sexual expression doesn’t matter anymore.” She believes safe-sex talks, condoms, lubricants and sex educators who specialize in elder sexuality should be on-hand in senior residences. “We all need touch our whole lives and we’re never too old to enjoy arousal, sexual excitement, intimate bonding and self-pleasuring.”

Over time, Dessel believes there will be greater acceptance of senior sexual expression. “I think a lot of it will come from how we, as clinicians and practitioners, represent it.”
“There’s no lack of joking about sex among elders,” says Price. “But how much seriously helpful information is exchanged? Not much. And that needs to change.” 

Big in Japan
Shigeo Tokuda is arguably Japan’s hottest export this side of wasabi.

Shigeo Tokuda stands five-feet, three inches tall. He has a pleasant demeanor, a distinguished air and a smile that seems younger than his 75 years. What’s his “Fountain of Youth,” you wonder? Tokuda is a porn star. Elder porn is one of the fastest-growing niches in Japan’s estimated billion-dollar adult industry. In fact, Tokuda has roughly 350 titles under his belt. Pun most definitely intended.

Hardly an on-screen ageist, Tokuda, who is married and has an adult daughter (he claims they know nothing of his work) shoots scenes with women in their 20s, 70s, and everywhere in between—occasionally in multiples. While younger people seem to enjoy his work, which sells phenomenally well, it’s likely no coincidence that they do best with customers over 65, or that Japan has the highest number of citizens in this very demographic. Interestingly, mainstream fare, featuring young women most often see their sales drop within a few months of release. Elder porn—featuring mature actresses—tends to sell slow, steady, continually, often producing quite impressive profits.

Tokuda, a travel agent in his former life, took to “acting” as a retiree, and has said he very much enjoys the work and would like to keep doing it until he is 80 or even older, Domo arigato.