Meeting the Challenge of Leisure - Sexual attitude and activity in the aged

We have come far since the Victorian era when talk about sex was taboo. Now science is taking a candid look at sex in the later years and is exploding old myths as well as exploring new truths. Such enlightenment can help reduce any remaining guilt in this area.

After Age 60

In one study to determine the pattern of sexual behavior after 60, researchers at Duke University quizzed 250 people aged 60 to 93 about their sexual activities. Of the 149 who were married, 81 reported they were still sexually active; even in the single group, 7 of the 101 questioned reported “some sexual activity.”

Dr. Gustave Newman, who conducted the study, reported 10 percent of the couples over 60 as having sexual relations more than once a week, though couples over 75 unanimously reported less activity.

“No age is an automatic cut-off point for sex,” claims the late Dr. Isadore Rubin in his study, Sexual Life After Sixty . “But,” he continues, sexuality cannot flourish in a climate where rejection of aging as a worthwhile stage of life leads inevitably to self-rejection by many older persons ... the men and women who “act old” in their sexual activity before their bodies have really called a halt become sexually old long before their time.

Physiological and Psychological Changes and Sex

Postmenopausal women may experience painful intercourse due to a decrease in vaginal lubrication. This problem is easily remedied with the use of nonpetroleum-based vaginal creams or jellies.

Many women take a renewed interest in sex after menopause. Dr. William H. Masters and Mrs. Virginia E. Johnson in their study Human Sexual Response credit the tendency of many women to experience a second honeymoon in the early 50s to the fact that they no longer have to worry about pregnancy and usually have resolved most of the problems of raising a family.

On the other hand, they tell us: Deprived of normal sexual outlets, women exhaust themselves physically in conscious or unconscious efforts to dissipate their accumulated and frequently unrecognized sexual tensions. Many demonstrate their basic insecurities by casting themselves unreservedly into their religion, the business world, volunteer social work, or overzealous mothering of their mature children or grandchildren.

While some women become more responsive as they grow older, Masters and Johnson point out, “There is no question that the human male's responsiveness wanes as he ages.”

Men may experience less sexual urgency, delayed or partial erection, and less defined ejaculations because the body's secretion of the male hormone testosterone decreases with age and the conduction of nerve impulses is less rapid. Also, arteries in the penis are less able to maintain the blood pressure necessary for a full erection.

Another common concern for older men is impotence, that is, diminished or no sexual response. Nearly everyone experiences impotence from time to time, often from such routine problems as fatigue, stress, or illness. The incidence of impotence, however, definitely increases with age. (By age 65, 30 percent of men report chronic impotence; by age 75, 55 percent do.)

Impotence has been linked to such problems as diabetes, Parkinson's disease, liver or kidney disease, and lower back problems. Other causes are certain medications, excessive alcohol consumption, drug abuse, and smoking. Most cases of impotence, however, can be traced to psychological problems such as anxiety, depression, or marital problems. About 80 percent of these cases can still be overcome with psychotherapy.

Sexual dysfunction in women is often called frigidity and implies a cold woman who cannot become excited sexually. As with men, there are both organic and psychological causes which can often be treated.

Although sex for most healthy men and women over 60 may not be quite the same as it was for them in their 20s, that does not mean it cannot be good, or even better. A change in attitudes and expectations about sex may have surprising results. Couples may find new enjoyment in reducing the pace of lovemaking and exploring different ways of giving each other pleasure besides intercourse.

Health Concerns

For those not so healthy older men and women, especially most of those who have suffered heart attacks, there is no reason for them not to have sex. After a heart attack most are able to resume sexual activity within a few months, although patients with angina pectoris may be advised to proceed cautiously.

According to Dr. Philip Reichert, former executive secretary of the American College of Cardiology: We must get rid of the notion that every heart patient lives under an overhanging sword and that he faces the constant threat of sudden death. The congenial married couple, accustomed to each other and whose technique is habituated through many years of companionship, can achieve sexual satisfaction without too great an expenditure of body energy or too severe a strain upon the heart… .

Hypertension sufferers may sometimes indulge in a restricted form of sexual activity with medical supervision. And modern therapy and surgical methods can often prevent or delay impotence caused by prostate disease or diabetes.

Where any health problem is involved, it is best to analyze your sex needs and those of your partner; consult with your physician and partner as to how you can both attain satisfaction without harm to your health; see your physician regularly and report accurately distress symptoms and the conditions causing them.

Recent research has dispelled other long-held ideas about sex, too—among them the myth that masturbation is childish and harmful to health. Moreover, Rubin points out: “All studies of older persons have shown that autoerotic activity, while not as common as in the younger years, is far more prevalent in later years than most of us have imagined.”

Dr. Lester W. Dearborn, marriage consultant, in pointing out the role masturbation plays in the lives of the single or widowed, comments:

It is to be hoped that those interested in the field of geriatrics will … encourage the aging to accept masturbation as a perfectly valid outlet when there is a need and other means of gratification are not available.

Cellular Therapy and Hormone Treatment

To keep older people vigorous and active, some researchers have experimented with cellular therapy as a means of retarding aging. Dr. Paul Niehans, a Swiss physician, introduced the idea of cellular therapy in the 1930s with his theory that organs begin to deteriorate in old age when the body fails to replace the cells that compose it. He prescribed a treatment whereby a person is injected with cells from healthy embryonic animal organs. (He used sheep, pigs, and calves.) He believed that the animal cells from a particular organ would migrate to the same organ in the aging body and reactivate it. Thus, kidney troubles could be cured with cells from an embryonic animal kidney. Although such notables as Sir Winston Churchill, Pope Pius XII, Somerset Maugham, and Dr. Konrad Adenauer submitted to it, cellular therapy is not widely accepted in the United States today as an effective agent against aging.

More to the point, most researchers feel, are the current experiments with hormones. Hormones help women through the tension of menopause and are used to treat impotence and loss of sexual desire. However, some studies have linked estrogen hormone therapy statistically with uterine cancer. For this reason and because of side effects, hormones face many years of testing before they will be used extensively to retard aging.

Mental Outlook

Good health plus a romantic outlook promote sex appeal at any age. Showing affection, whether sexually or not, keep you sparkling and lively no matter what your age.

A good wholesome attitude toward life, a hearty sense of humor, a sympathetic interest in other people—all help make up the indefinable something that makes us appealing to the opposite sex. Cleanliness, neat suitable apparel, and good posture all add to the image we create of ourselves in other people's minds. So do the manners we reflect in the courtesies we show the people around us—the thoughtful little things we do for them, our reactions to the things they do for us.

If you're a woman over 65 who is looking for companionship, you'll probably find a good personality uplift win get you farther than a face or bust lift. If you're a man who is hoping to find feminine companionship, you will probably find a good spiritual overhaul more image-enhancing than dyeing your hair. Also, a good night's sleep is the best aphrodisiac.

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