Here’s a joke for you:
An 80-year-old man walks into his doctor’s office.
“Do you still have sex?” the doctor asks.
“Almost every day,” the man answers.
“Interesting,” the doctor responds.
“Yes, doc,” says the 80-year-old man. “Almost on Monday. Almost on Tuesday. Almost on Wednesday…”
Funny right? I laughed! But why?
What’s so funny about older people having (or not having) sex? Are we laughing with—or at—ourselves?
Sex As We Age
Do we still? Sure! Many of us do!
Should we still? Many younger people think not—or would rather not think about it at all.
While you can’t flip through channels any evening without seeing a naked breast or butt cheek, they’re all young breasts and butt cheeks! When was the last time (or first time, for that matter) have you seen a naked body over 40 on the screen?
Think about that. Think about why.
When it comes to older people, anything in the mainstream related to sex is taboo. Ageism has found its way to sex!
I’ve been writing this blog for close to three years now. And have never before written a post about sex.
Am I ageist when it comes to sex? Maybe.
Maybe it’s my inner prude. Maybe I’m still suffering from the “be a good girl” syndrome. Maybe it’s fear. (I know ridiculous, right?) But I am going walk the walk today, readers. Going to talk the talk.
Let’s have a little talk about sex.
Sex is Good for Your Mind … AND Your Brain!
First … let’s cover some of the benefits of sex—of which there are many.
Yes! Sex is one of the good things in life that is also good for you!
According to Dr.Nicole Didyk, a specialist in healthy aging, sex releases lots of good-feeling chemicals, among them norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin, vasopressin, nitric oxide, prolactin and endocannabinoid—what Didyk calls “your body’s cannabis chemical.” Sex also decreases stress and increases self-esteem and feelings of intimacy with your partner or partners.
In other words, sex is good for your mind. But did you know that sex is good for your brain?
Studies have shown that “Sexual experience restores age-related decline in adult neurogenesis and hippocampal function.”
Yes! Sex creates new neurons in the brain, improves cognitive functioning, supports long-term memory, and may help people think more clearly.
Deborah Long in her stellar article “How Sex Helps Your Brain,” examines several studies on the topic. One, in particular, that caught my eye was conducted by Dr. Barry Komisaruk at Rutgers University, where he and his team have been studying female orgasms for 25 years. That study “used fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging, which measures brain activity by tracking changes in blood flow) to show that, in women, orgasm lights up as many as 30 areas of the brain.”
That’s a lot of lights!
“By contrast, crossword puzzles, sudoku, and memory games that are often used to stimulate the brain work only on localized regions.”
“So, tonight,” Long suggests, “put down the pencil and go for the — well, you know!”
Maybe not such a bad idea.
Retirement—Don’t Let It Be A Buzz Kill
But not all of us are as enamored with hopping into bed as we used to be. One poll conducted by Rob Pascale coauthor of The Retirement Maze found that “Only about 75 percent of those retired report that they have sex regularly (at least once per month) verses 90 percent among those of the same age who are employed.” These numbers seem to have more to do with whether a person is working than with their age.
While there are no definitive reasons for this downward trend in sexual activity among retirees, Pascale in his article “Is There Sex After Retirement,” postulates 3 possible reasons:
- Self-esteem often drops when a person retires—and low self-esteem is not exactly conducive to sex.
- Many retirees, according to Pascale, tend to feel less energetic than their working peers. Less energetic may translate into less energy for sex.
- For couples, retirement usually means spending more time together. Pascale thinks that maybe close quarters “provide more opportunities for skirmishes, which can put emotional distance between partners.” I have to wonder if there are any studies coming out about sexual activity among couples during the pandemic—talk about close quarters!
But there are other reasons for a decrease in sexual activity as we age, many of which have to do with general physical health. Rita Rubin in her article “Sex and the Midlife Woman” looks at research by Dr. Rosella Nappi, who has found that “about half of postmenopausal women experience vaginal discomfort attributable to a chronic condition called vulvovaginal atrophy. Symptoms include vaginal dryness, soreness, itching and burning.” If you suffer from vulvovaginal atrophy, there is help available in the form of topical therapies and oral pills. Talk to your doctor—ASAP!
Men have well documented challenges with sex as they age as well. According to Dr. Didyk, up to two-thirds of men over the age of 70 report having erectile dysfunction.
But hold on–not all is so bleak.
Sex Was Never So Good!
While there are legitimate challenges associated with “getting it on” as we get on in years, there are also new delights!
Just ask Susanne Braun Levine who wrote the book How We Love Now: Sex and the New Intimacy in Second Adulthood.
In her article “8 Reasons Why Sex is Better after 50,” Levine cites studies that have found “many women over 50 are having good, even great sex.” One study in particular discovered that a majority of the women participants over 40 (median age, 67) were “satisfied with their sex lives and that the proportion actually increased with age.”
Levine comes up with some pretty compelling reasons for this increase in satisfaction.
First–Gone is the fear of becoming pregnant.
Levine puts it this way: “Now the sex act is simply that, an act. Emotions may be as fraught as ever, but the act itself has become just another fun activity, like a game of tennis.”
I don’t know about you, but I’ll never think of tennis the same way again.
Toys Are Not Just for Kids
Many of Levine’s other seven reasons why “sex is better sex over 50” can be summed up with this: becoming older provides us with a greater freedom from judgment. We are (mostly) done with the pressure of having to “be good girls.” We are more confident, know what we want—and what we don’t want—and aren’t afraid to ask for it (or go get it ourselves)!
Older women often embark on a new and exciting road of self-discovery. Why not make sex a stop on that self-discovery path? If vaginal penetration is no longer an option–or if you’d like to add a little spice to the sheets–with or without a partner–there are other satisfying ways to remain sexually active and to give each other or yourself pleasure.
It may be as simple as experimenting with a new position or trying out a new room in the house. What about exploring those wonderful establishments–both brick and mortar and online stores–that specialize in Adult Toys? Women’s Health has put together quite the list in their article “24 Best Sex Toys for Couples in 2021.” (I bet they’ll work just as well in 2022–just saying.) From the “Partner Whale” to the “Union Double Didlo,” there truly is something for everyone. (While this particular article specifically lists toys for two, the vast majority of sex toys available are aimed at providing “singular” pleasure.)
“Wrap It Before You Tap It!”
I would be remiss if I did not mention one important caveat about having sex at any age—practice sex safely! While pregnancy is no longer a concern, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are—AND they are on the rise among older adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “STIs have more than doubled in the past ten years among U.S. adults age 65 years and older.”
Screening for STIs is always a good decision, as is using condoms.
So … please protect yourself … AND enjoy!
Have you experienced a sexual (r)evolution post menopause?
I’d love to hear about it! Or any of your other thoughts! Please leave a comment or send an email. And please feel free to share on social media.
See you September 6th!
If You Know Another Amazing Woman (Or Person Of Any Gender!) Who Might Like To Join Us At WomanPause, Please Forward This Link: WomanPause
P.S. If you are inspired by wonderful writing, I’d love for you to join me on September 13, 20 and 27 for “Mirroring the Masters,” a writing class I am offering through the New York Writing Room.