Thursday, December 27, 2012

Sexuality and Aging: Changes

Regardless of sexual orientation, and regardless of whether we're in partnered relationships or single, in this day and age, every woman should be taking responsibility for her own sexual health and pleasure. As 80-something year old sex-researcher, educator and artist Dr. Betty Dodson argues, "remaining connected to our active sexuality 'until death do us part' ought to be a part of every woman’s life plan, regardless of age." It's a quality of life question, a matter of one's wholeness and birthright, no less. But in a culture steeped in the sexual repression of women, wherein it's possible to make reference to "binders full of women" in public discourse, the numbers of women themselves who still doubt this are many. So I ask you to consider the following: 

According to the Harvard Health Report, Sexuality in Midlife and Beyond, half of all men aged 50 and older report erection problems. This figure rises to 60% at age 60 and 70% at age 70. And even when men’s plumbing is in good working order, women in the US tend to outlive their men by an average of 6 years, one of the major reasons that more women than men wind up living out their senior years alone. 

For our part, women also experience bodily changes that accompany the aging process. To be sure, some of these changes - like no longer needing to worry about getting pregnant - are liberating, exhilarating, in the extreme. Others can be a bit challenging to manage, like the fabled vaginal dryness issues that postmenopausal women often face.

And the sobering truth for older men and women combined is that more than 80% of them living alone, or in assisted living facilities, suffer from what's been called skin hunger, or touch deprivation, and never experience intimate human touch outside the context of medical or custodial care. Can you imagine?

So the question becomes: Beyond Viagra and Cialis for flagging erections and a nice, warm slathering of sweet almond oil as a natural fix-it for vaginal dryness, how do we accommodate the inevitable changes that take place in our lives, and our aging bodies, in ways that are respectful of ourselves and our partners – if we have them? Further, how do we remain open-minded about our options in the face of our changing physical landscapes?

If we’re honest with ourselves, we realize that finding the answer to these and other equally important questions may require some rethinking of old patterns and paradigms.

One critical step in that direction is to come to terms with the reality that between consenting adults, the sexual rules, norms, and limitations we grew up with were put in place by systems of oppression that were dedicated to the widespread goal of controlling adult human bodies as a way of maintaining social, spiritual and economic power over the them - nothing more.

Does anyone ever wonder about the old TV series, The Golden Girls, about four single retired senior women sharing a house in South Florida? A cutting edge situation comedy of its time, you might remember that the show starred Beatrice Arthur, Rue McClanahan and the amazing Betty White in sophisticated story lines that touched on timely social issues in a way that highlighted the agency of these golden-aged women housemates who were vocally, actively STRAIGHT in their sexual orientation. Was theirs really just an extended, best-friends type of platonic living relationship? Or was it really something else, something a bit more creative and really cutting edge?

As it turns out, lots of real-life older single STRAIGHT women have been, and are, taking strategic control of their later years by entering into living arrangements with other older women - living arrangements that mimic that of television's The Golden Girls, but with the added benefit of caring consensual sexual activity between the women involved. 

Often enough, these women are not gay or bi, but rather self-identify as having been married to or partnered with men all of their lives. So why partner now with other women for living and sex?

The answer is elegantly simple, I think. In addition to sharing the day-to-day exigencies of living, it's one way of ensuring that there's companionship for the long haul, and that when the body hungers for another's intimate touch, that fundamentally human, life-affirming need is shared. Reciprocated in kind. Beautifully, caringly, safely fulfilled. Skin hunger be damned, they say. End of story.

What strategies do you have for staying in touch with your sexual energy as you age? Does the possibility of being without a partner worry you?

photo credit: <a href="">to.wi</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>


  1. yes, being without a partner does worry me. Especially when I think of it in the sense of being "old" and alone. THis year's holiday season has also brought to the forefront of my mind and in my heart the lonliness that I feel. I'm not alone, I just feel lonely. Important to remember that feelings aren't always fact. I stay in touch with my sexual energy by talking about my sexual thoughts and desires with "safe" people. I acknowledge and celebrate, even if just internally, my arousals, fantasies and what "flips my switch". I masterbate, although not as much as I could. Dammitt, I just want the real thing...Ok, enough of the temper tantrum!! LOL! THere are however, some things I am not doing to stay in touch with my sexual energy. I have not been eating healthfully or exercising. In one of those slumps.....AGAIN! I also know that I am emotionally shut down. If I am not emotional, I am not vulnerable and therefore I cannott be hurt!! Go ahead everyone, ask me, so, hows that working for you Marnie?? Perhaps it is more important that I ask myself that question. I know it is important to stay in touch with my sexual energy, whether in a relationship or not. I know what I need to do. Ohhhh, there goes the willingness, the strength.....annnnddddd....its gone.....Ok, so does getting dressed up and going out for NYE to dance, laugh and fellowship with other like minded people count toward this staying in touch thing??? I think so...and so it is. THis is my start...but certainly not a New Years resolution.

  2. Marnie,
    I'm so sorry to hear that this has been a trying time for you. So many people find the holidays to be way too emotionally taxing to provide much relaxation and/or enjoyment. There’s an abundance of wisdom in your words, and so much honesty about what lots of people are feeling that I’m sure that many others can relate to it as well – even some people who are currently in relationships. As all of us who've been there know, not all relationships provide the kind of nurturing, love, companionship and togetherness that we all have every right to crave. And the fact is, all you say is true, about the difference between loneliness and actually feeling/being alone. Not everyone can, or does, make that distinction and it’s a critical one. As far as being shut down is concerned, it’s like any other bandage, the purpose of which, as you say, is to protect one’s wounds. The tricky thing is knowing when said bandage has outlived its usefulness and trust in your ability to get along without it.

    I absolutely agree that your plans for NYE do indeed count towards staying in touch with your sexual energy. More importantly, such plans celebrate your own true self and demonstrate to yourself, as well as to others, the enormous resilience and strength of spirit that have gotten you this far. So please do laugh, dance and fellowship with others. Above all, please do be gentle with yourself. And here’s to heartfelt hoping that the New Year brings all of us the best that the Universe has in store. Be well... - GRS

    1. Dr Singh,
      thank you for the kindness and is much appreciated. I pray that the New Year has started off well for you and that you are doing well, emotionally, physically and spiritually. I had a wonderful time on NYE and so far the new year has started out pretty good....I have started each day in prayer and meditation/quiet time and back on track with healthy eating and some light exercise. I am feeling a greater sense of connection with my creator and feeling a bit better in my skin... Yes, I wish all the best for myself and others in the new year and I have a good feeling about what the universe has in store....Have a wonderful day!!


  3. Marnie,

    I'm so happy to hear this good news. It sounds like you're off to a deeply grounded, healthful, and very centered start. I pray that the road ahead will be kind to you, just as you are being to yourself, and I will continue to hold you fondly in my thoughts and prayers. Be well, and please keep in touch. - GRS

  4. The sytrategies that I had work really well for me and my partner at the time. I use to get worried about being alone without a partner, but I have been alone this long that fear is gone.

  5. I experienced the longer I am abstinent the easier it has become to not be so co-dependent on others. It is my choice and being so "wild" when younger I need this time to really learn how to be in a relationship and treat a woman right.

  6. I have experienced in the past how to be alone it's will power and respect for yourself . I think if I have to be alone again I can survive the needed or wanted desirer of a man.

  7. I don't think much about being alone. I have a lot of things that keep me busy, and I love what I do. I read a plaque in one of my friends office and it went something like this" Dance as if no bodies can see you ,sing as if no body can hear you, and love as if you never been hurt. I know it is not that simple, but let us strive together for a better future.

  8. If I end up alone I know that I will be alright. Being alone in the past was miserable until I learned how to entertain myself not just sexual but socially as well. Being alone can also teach us how to appreciate someone when they are in our lives.

  9. I have experienced being alone in several situations: because I went abstinence for five years waiting on my daughter's father, I got married and because of his extramarital affairs and business I was still alone, and last but not least because the loneliness of a void that I now realize I have to deal with. It is not an easy task especially since I was in a long term relationship that I thought was going to last forever and was blindsided. I am afraid because I have been hurt so much that I may end up alone. Something I guess I just have to get use to. So here's to falling in love with me and being comfortable with being alone.

  10. Me and my partner always does different things in the bedroom. We always try to spice things up by bringing different toys in the bedroom. As far as trying to keed our sexual energy up as we age, were pretty much caught up. I'm kinda young right now but I believe I will be fine whether I'm with someone or by myself. Being without a partner does not worry me at all. I have been by myself before and I was able to entertain myself sexually and socially. So no, I'm not afraid. I'll just have to keep learning new things to do in the bedroom.