Sex after sixty

Hormonal and physical issues and a “partner gap” may present problems. But the effects of aging are often amenable to treatment

By Carol Ann Rinzler

Type “sex after sixty” into your computer search bar and up pop lots of virtual pages documenting who’s doing what and how among the Golden Agers.

No surprise there, really. Desire is in the brain and sex is in the body, but better meds and better living have kept both in tune for longer than previously expected, sustaining what was once considered a strictly youthful sport well into Granny Land.

There may, of course, be a few bumps along the way. For men, “hydraulics is the biggest impediment to sex later in life,” says Dr. Walter Bortz, Professor of Medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine, past president of the American Geriatrics Society and former co-chair of the American Medical Association’s Task Force on Aging. “For women, it’s opportunity and availability.”

True: Older men do experience hormonal and physical issues that may interfere with sexual performance, and older women do have problems finding enough older men to go around. But as Barbara Chubak, Assistant Professor of Urolgy at Mt. Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine, correctly notes, women also “experience biological changes that can interfere with sexual arousal response and pleasurable sexual activity, and both men and women are troubled by unrealistic gendered expectations.”

The difference, of course, is that the physical effects of aging are often amenable to treatment, which is why the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP) reports that nearly one in seven men age 57 to 85 take little blue pills to improve sexual function.

What’s not treatable is the significant gender difference in longevity that results in the “partner gap” certified when AARP ran a Sex, Romance, and Relationships Survey of Midlife and Older Adults study showing that only 32 percent of women 70 or older have partners, compared with 59 percent of men in the same age group.

It’s not for lack of interest on the female side. The National Commission on Aging (NCOA) says that 62 percent of women over 70 find sex “at least as satisfying or more satisfying physically” than it was in their 40s. The problem is fewer older men, a difficult situation made more so by cultural norms which applaud guys who seek younger partners but laugh if you switch the genders. The men prove their virility with “trophy wives.” Older women? They’re “cougars” going tooth and claw after helpless “boy toys.” What no one mentions is that the boys might have read Benjamin Franklin’s 1745 “Advice to a Young Man on the Choice of a Mistress” urging them to “Prefer old Women to young ones ... the Pleasure of corporal Enjoyment with an old Woman is at least equal, and frequently superior, every Knack being by Practice capable of Improvement.” Besides, unable to restrain himself, Franklin, added: “They are so grateful!!”

Today, their younger sisters might be equally grateful for the attention. Contrary to common wisdom which sees youngsters hopping in and out of bed with abandon, recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows that from 1991 to 2017 the number of high-school students having actual sex dropped 14 percentage points. There are similar stats among the wider group of Americans younger than 35 perhaps because as many as one in three of them live with their parents, putting an obvious crimp in their romantic lives. And vice versa, too: Adult children may be less than pleased to see their aging parents and grandparents as sexual beings.

In short, after 60, sex is as complicated as ever. But it’s worth the effort. As Bortz has written: “If you stay interested, stay healthy, stay off medications, and have a good mate, then you can have good sex all the way to the end of life.”

Even faithful trophy wives and boy toys.