Older, Wise, Sexually Smarter: Promoting Sexuality Education for Mid and Later Life


Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of articles on sexuality and aging, co-produced by the National
Sexuality Resource Center and RH Reality Check. Check back in the coming weeks for more on seniors and sexuality. Read the first article: How Are Your Orgasms, Mom?

This is an invitation to join the new sexual revolution-the one validating the sexuality of people in mid and later life. This revolution challenges the old mores and encourages both men and women to re-envision their sexuality by exploring new ways of being sexual as they age. Knowledgeable professionals are key to this vital social change: in giving permission, providing information, and offering specific suggestions that enable people to overcome barriers to sexual health and happiness. It’s a movement whose time has come as the baby boomers-and their parents-increasingly assume their right to remain sexual.

Ideally sexual reeducation will begin when people are in their forties, before loss of an erection causes men to panic and fear of reoccurrence becomes self-fulfilling, before women internalize old menopause myths. My undocumented hypothesis (after thirty years as a sexuality educator and eleven years focused on sexuality and aging) is that when people become sexually smarter-understand normal life changes, examine sexual scripts, and discover the many ways of keeping their sexuality alive-many of the sexual problems common in later life will disappear.

If you believe you will some day be fifty-or eighty-start with educating yourself about the changes you can expect: physical, psychological, social; explore the resources available; if possible, take a workshop. If you choose to go to counseling, ask your therapist for suggested books, films, and websites. Seek workshops at community centers, adult schools, churches, synagogues, and mosques, and if you cannot find any, consider organizing one. My new manual, Older, Wiser, Sexually Smarter: 30 Sex Ed Lessons for Adults Only provides a full annotated bibliography plus step-by-step directions and handouts that enable a facilitator who is comfortable talking about sexuality to provide exciting interactive sessions.

If you decide to lead a group, be sure to start with jokes-the web is full of jokes making fun of the very idea of older people being sexual. Jokes enable us to laugh at the stereotypes that perpetuate images of non-sexual or foolishly sexual older people. The laughter reduces anxiety, begins to build a sense of community, and starts the process of examining our sexual attitudes, values, and beliefs. The goal is to evaluate "sexual scripts," those ingrained social messages that we have learned from birth, especially those about sexuality and aging. When we consider the facts about our changing bodies, changing relationships, and changing lives, we can envision ways to continue to enjoy our sexuality into the future.

In any group anonymous questions are the key to understanding the concerns of participants. As a workshop facilitator I have responded to common ones such as these: How soon is too soon in a new relationship? Oral sex: should it be expected? Should it be offered? How can I adjust to my partner’s physical handicaps? Can you discuss female orgasm? What about sexual deprivation from loss of a partner (divorce or death)? How can I get my partner to communicate? And my favorite from a twelve session course at the Academy of Lifelong Learning, University of Delaware: What about the men in this course who have not told their wives they’re taking it?!

When I tell people I teach about sexuality and aging, there are two typical responses: "Oh!" (end of discussion) and, "Oh, good. I hear there’s a lot of HIV in some of those retirement communities!" This assumes the old prevention model of sex education. Surely "safer sex" is important, but it warrants only one (albeit very comprehensive) lesson in Older, Wiser, Sexually Smarter. Twenty-nine other lessons recognize the multiple issues that participants identify, including: early learning that discourages communication, masturbation, and female initiatives; the awesome changes in sexual attitudes, beliefs, and values during the beyond-sixty-five years; bodily changes that require new positions and new expectations; the grand possibility of "outercourse" with the potential of solving all those unenthusiastic erections; special problems for people with disabilities and chronic illness; children’s negative responses to a parent’s new relationship; the medicalization of sex by pharmaceutical companies; the media’s fascination with young bodies; and the brave new world of cyber sex.

Everyone can create opportunities. Living in a continuing care retirement community, I have many. One of my favorites is when a new couple (labeled "an item" means this relationship is serious!) asks to borrow some of my books or videos. Or, when a resident asks me to join her in urging the heath services nurse to recommend masturbation to help women sleep. Or, I may simply challenge a friend’s comment, "Oh! I’m too old for that!" So, I welcome news about how you promote education for sexuality in mid and later life as we join in this movement that, at last, acknowledges humans are sexual from birth to death.

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To schedule an interview with contact director of communications Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • http://www.retirementcommunities.net invalid-0

    Great writeup Peggy! A fun read.

  • http://www.boost-your-low-testosterone.com invalid-0

    Good for you!

    I think many people expect sex to end once they hit 70, but in reality, that doesn’t have to be.

    Thanks for the interesting article!

  • invalid-0

    My wife and I have always had a happy and healthy sex life. It seems common place now days that after 20 years of marriage most people just stop, but that was never the case for us. I have had some health issues, but instead of this being reason to cut back in the bedroom, it has been a motivator for us to try new things. We tried Tantra and a few ignite your sex life type of books, before we discovered the 3 Minute Orgasm DOing technique. Knowing how to satisfy my wife and learn about her orgasm in ways I didn’t even know a man could, has been a very gratifying experience for us both. It’s a manual technique, but also offers ways for people to communicate and feel more. I couldn’t be more delighted with the results. We found them on YouTube.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbstndvSXAI

  • invalid-0

    Here is a better weblink for your book. (The other one didn’t work.)

    http://www.plannedparenthood.org/greater-northern-nj/files/Greater-Northern-New-Jersey/flyerOlderWiserSS.pdf

  • invalid-0

    I’m looking forward to checking out the new book, Peggy! I’ve been using the first edition with lots of success. Thanks for all you do.

  • http://seniorservicematch.com invalid-0

    Great article.