Sex & Seniors
By Dr. Amy Cooper, Sexual Enrichment Coach

These questions were submitted by a journalist from the Santa Cruz Sentinel:

1. How does our view of sexuality change as we age?

People's views of sexuality as they age can change in a variety of ways. Much depends on their view of sexuality in general. If you are someone who thinks sex is primarily for procreation, then you may feel that sex is only for younger people in their procreative years. On the other hand, if you are someone who believes sex is about pleasure and intimacy, then you are more likely to find it appropriate to continue engaging sexually with a partner well into your later years of life. One thing that can happen is that people's sexual self esteem can take a hit because as their bodies and faces age, they no longer feel sexually attractive, and in a culture that overvalues and idealizes youthful beauty, it is no wonder that people may feel this way. I am a big advocate of people breaking free of their own biases about what is considered beautiful or sexy. No-one has to buy into the messages of the mainstream if they choose not to. Chances are your own beliefs are what hold you back from enjoying your sexuality, no matter what age you are.

2. What are some misconceptions about sex in the senior years?

Well, one misconception is that older people don't have sexual feelings, desire and crave sexual encounters. While sexual functioning may alter and the physiology may not respond as it once did, libido is often still perfectly in tact. Some people may not realize that sex often gets better for women after menopause. A woman in her later years is often more empowered and knows what she wants and to how to ask for it. And contrary to the classic depiction of the "old lech" who is focused on his own sexual needs and desires, men's need to ejaculate usually becomes less urgent as they age, enabling them to be more focused on a loving erotic encounter and satisfying their partner.

3. What are some local resources seniors can access to gain information about sex?

A great book which you probably know about is "The New Love and Sex after 60" by Butler and Lewis. And I have an online Sexuality Resource Guide for Santa Cruz County which is still a work in progress:

4. What are some common sexual issues (if any) that your senior clients deal with?

Common sexual issues with older clients usually have to do with arousal-so for men, this would be erectile difficulty, and for women, lubrication and engorgement of vaginal tissues. While sometimes these issues can be helped by bringing more or different kinds of stimulation or behaviors into their sexual routine, sometimes the work I do is helping them accept the changes in their bodies and change their expectations of how sex should look or feel. And often there are sexual self esteem issues or beliefs about sexuality and aging that are creating a barrier to their own exploration and enjoyment of sex.

5. If someone loses a spouse later in life, do they often feel their sex life is over? If so, how can you help them create a new sexual identity?

Losing a spouse at anytime in a person's life can make them feel like a part of themselves has died and is likely to affect the experience of their sexuality. It can actually be a liberating experience, however, in that anytime we are confronted with our mortality, we can harness the power of accepting our inevitable demise, and courageously choose to live our lives more fully. This may be more of a challenge if you yourself do not feel like you have much life left in you to live, but when there is still more life in you, there is always the possibility for new experiences. My very own mother started internet dating in her 70's and is now married to man 10 years older than her whom she met online. (And they are sexual!) It is helpful to always remember that you are not alone in your loneliness. We are social creatures who crave connection and want to feel good.