There are two words that we don’t like to hear in one sentence— “grandparents” and “sex.” I remember quite clearly when my grandmother and I watched an episode of Dr. Ruth and she told me she wished someone had told her about orgasms. I was mortified, by both the fact that she had no clue and that the word came out of her mouth—with a Yiddish accent, too.
Well, it’s not your grandparents’ world anymore. The University of Chicago's National Social Life, Health and Aging Project (NSHAP), presented in the New England Journal of Medicine, tells a different story about grandma and grandpa; they are sexually active, engaging in intercourse, oral sex and masturbation—well into their 70s and 80s. The boomer generation is having record sex; enjoying sex as much or more than when they were younger, and to prove it they are acquiring sexually transmitted diseases in record numbers.
Sex may decline only slightly between ages 50 to 70 and those between 70 to 85 seem to be affected only by health problems or the availability of a partner, not desire. Boomers and seniors biggest complaint about sex is that they lack information; about sexually transmitted diseases, performance issues such as erectile dysfunction, vaginal dryness or lubrication.
“I have no one to ask about these things,” said Marion S. at the Boomer Health Fair in Albany, New York. “My doctor rushes me out and other than the internet I suppose I’m alone on this.”
Marion is not alone. According to the NSHAP study, nearly one in seven men or 14% interviewed, reported taking medication to improve sexual function, and 38% reported they discussed sex with their doctor. Much fewer women, 22%, reported discussing sex with a physician after age 50. The researchers concluded that physicians have reasons and opportunities to open up dialogue with men because of the availability of drugs on the market to treat male sexual issues. But that appears to be changing; women are demanding treatments for libido loss, vaginal dryness and appear to coax their husbands to medical offices so they can find solutions to his problems. Of course not everyone wants their husband amped up on testosterone or drugs that might restore his erection, but a lot more women than we might think do. The truth is we are living longer and healthier lives and we still want to be sexually active.
It appears that today’s older women might be the leaders in the sexual area compared to her female predecessors. In reality, women tend to be the gatekeepers of sexual activity and when they stop, so does all the sexual activity in the relationship. But today’s women have refined their role and are less likely to cease. We are the first generation of women who have been employed most of our lives; we are more highly educated, healthier and more sexually active to begin with. The single largest predictor of sex in the future is sex in the past; we have always been a more sexually active group. Around 75% of the population of 55 to 75 year olds are having regular sex with a partner and 50% percent of boomers stated that they had engaged in oral sex with their partner, at least within the previous year. The NSAHP questionnaire found that those above their 50s were relatively unbothered by answering intimate questions about their sex lives. Here is where we separate the men from the boys and the women from the girls. Our children are more embarrassed discussing sex than we are! If you don’t believe me just walk into your kid’s room and ask them about their sex life. See what happens.
Even though our kids do not want to think of us having sex, I do remind them that our generation invented it--free love, birth control, women’s rights; we ushered in a new ethos our grandparents could not have imagined. My grandmother wouldn’t have said the word “orgasm”, well, if it sat on her couch and introduced itself. But we do, because not a single boomer teenager grew up in the dark about what could happen on that couch! Sex only meant one thing to our grandparents--babies. I can't imagine telling my grandmother that my generation has sex because it's fun and it feels good. "Go soak in the sulfur baths in Saratoga," she would tell me, "now, that feels good."
But I grew up in the era when buying condoms no longer required you produce a marriage certificate, the pill was easily available, and making love not war was a rite of passage. I still swear our generation invented the reclining car seat. We all know that no one really sleeps in them. . . . But the truth is we come from a generation of men and women who discovered sex together. Now that we’ve gained maturity and our personalities are solidified, we don’t share the embarrassment some younger people do. Adding to our ability to discuss sex is the fact that those coupled generally have better sex than singletons; we know our partners more intimately and build stronger sexual connections. “Practice makes perfect,” and many of us, with more time now that the kids are grown and our jobs no longer take up most of our time, are doing a lot of practicing.
We have also redefined retirement. No rockers on our porches are occupied for long; many boomers are beginning a second act; changing careers, taking courses, or doing something they always wanted to do. With that kind of idealism sex hardly goes out the window.
Sex and health are highly related. Healthy people have sex and those who have sex seem to be healthier. It has been hypothesized that keeping fit might have other effects than giving us a trim, hard body; exercise stimulates the heart and keeps those blood vessels working properly. The single-most cited reason for erectile dysfunction and lack of female libido may be related to cardiovascular issues and/or diabetes.
And it’s not just sex; we still want to love. Love and connectedness might be one of the largest predictors of our health. Oxytocin is the neurotransmitter that gives us that warm and fuzzy feeling and appears to calm the more damaging cortical steroids our body produces when we are edgy. When seniors were asked what they did in the bedroom, they were not hesitant to talk about foreplay, cuddling and romance. The single largest growing industry for us is not pills to cure erectile dysfunction (although that ranks high) it’s online dating services for those 50 and older. As the fastest growing population in our country we may see many more services springing up to cater to more mature love.
We are the most powerful demographic in the country and we still want love and sex. Our kids and their kids don’t want to think about us having sex, but as I write this they are the ones making the decisions in corporate America, whose goal is to sell us a lot of products that might just make sex better. They could learn some lessons from us.
Post your comments here.