When Joan Price was dating in her 50s, it felt as if she was invisible to men. She was beginning to wonder if her sex life was over for good until, at 57, she fell in love with a 64-year-old and had what she describes as “the most glorious, hottest relationship that I could imagine”. She had never been taught that sex post-menopause could be like this, and she wanted to spread the word – which inspired her to write her first book Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex After Sixty. Since then, she’s written five more books and spoken widely about everything from sex toys to safer sex for seniors at workshops, webinars and events. We spoke to her about the misconceptions about seniors and sexuality and what people need to know about having sex as they age.
What are the biggest stereotypes you hear about seniors and sex?
That we age out of sex, that’s one big misconception, or that if we don’t look like our society’s idea of hot and sexy, then obviously, we’re not deserving of sex or sexual pleasure or sexual expression. Another big misconception that hits my age group and really anyone who would identify as senior is that because our bodies change and some things don’t work the same way they used to, our sex lives are over, when that’s so far from the truth. It takes education, experimentation, open-mindedness, and willingness to create our sexual selves all over again.
What don’t people understand about seniors’ sex lives?
We have so much to give after age 50, 60, 70, and beyond. We are at our best in so many ways, and that includes sexually. That includes knowing what we want in a relationship and what we have to give and feeling empowered to be our authentic selves. All of this doesn’t come with youth; this comes with age. And so to have that barrier of “yeah, but nobody wants to date me anymore” – that’s just the cruelest thing. However, if we stay out there, stay active, don’t lock ourselves in our houses, and get out and meet people, then we can get very, very lucky in later years.
What are the biggest issues seniors come across in their sex lives?
That our bodies don’t act the way they used to; they don’t respond the way they used to. Penis owners may have erectile issues. Vulva owners may have less pleasure and sometimes pain with penetrative sex. But this doesn’t mean sex is over. It means, let’s look at all the other wonderful things we can do to give and receive pleasure and make those the focus of our sexual expression instead of going for what used to qualify as ‘real sex’ when we were young. It’s not a matter of giving things up so much as expanding sex.
Why is it so important to destigmatize sex for seniors?
So often, if something goes wrong, such as if a vulva owner has a lot of trouble reaching orgasm or doesn’t seem to feel any sensation or a penis owner experiences abrupt erectile dysfunction, they think, “What do we expect? We’re old,” when actually, this can be a sign of an important health condition that needs to be treated. And so we need to learn to talk matter-of-factly about our sex lives to our doctors, and our doctors need to be able to talk matter-of-factly with us. We need to be able to say, “I’m experiencing this problem with arousal. Let’s run the tests and see what’s going on.”
How can we change society to be more accommodating of seniors who are wanting great sex lives?
The more we can talk out loud about older-age sexuality – the challenges, the pleasures, the road blocks, and the solutions – the more it will be understood as “this is part of life too”. There’s a growing awareness now about senior sex; it’s no longer as taboo as it was 17 years ago, when I started doing this work. But even so, it’s often talked about or written about in a way that goes, “Oh, hehe, isn’t this cute? Seniors having sex!” or “I can’t imagine picturing my grandparents…”
So, what we need to do is, in our own minds and hearts, first see if we have stereotypes about seniors and sex. What can you do to work on yourself to open your own mind to the possibilities of great, wonderful sexual pleasure and sexual expression with no age limit at the top? That’s where it starts. And then, where it goes from there is talk out loud about it. Don’t be shy about it. If you hear seniors mocked because they were sexual or want to be sexual, step in. Say something: “Why are you laughing, calling this man an old geezer because he still wants to have sex? Don’t we all?” Examine your own stereotypes, resolve those, and then challenge other people’s.
Is there anything else you’d like people to know?
I would love to turn the topic a little to Sex After Grief, which is my latest book. It’s an important topic because we all lose people sooner or later. One of us dies if we’re a couple, and to understand how to navigate your sexuality when the person you want to have sex with is dead, that’s a huge topic. If there’s a topic that’s still rather taboo, I would say that one is, and I would love to have people who are therapists, are widowed, or are caretaking a spouse to please read this book because you don’t need to be alone in that. There’s information and there’s help available. There are new ways of thinking about it. So many people carry guilt because here they are in grief – they’re mourning their beloved, and then lust pops up. Wait, that shouldn’t happen! But it does happen, and it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. You’re not doing grief wrong. It’s your resilience as a human being.