Talking to teens about senior sexuality

I was recently interviewed by Karen Rayne, Ph.D., a sex educator for teenagers and their parents who has a blog about adolescent sexuality . I’d like to repeat that interview here and get your comments:

Karen Rayne: Why do you think senior sexuality is important?

Joan Price: It’s important because we’ve been seen by society and by the media (and sometimes by ourselves!) as asexual, unsexy, and altogether icky if we are sexually active and enthusiastic about it. We need to change that, not just for those of us who are already in our golden years, but for all ages. I offer this plea to young people: Help us change our society’s view of older people as either sexless or ludicrous and disgusting for wanting sex. Realize that our bodies change, but we’re still the same lusty and loving people that we were when we were your age.

Karen Rayne: What do you see as the life-long path that can lead to healthy senior sexuality?

Joan Price: Acceptance of our own sexuality and open-mindedness about any consensual sex taking place between people of age to give consent — and by that I mean emotional age, not legal age of consent necessarily. I know that at age 17, I was fully ready to engage in sex with my 19-year-old boyfriend. We had been dating for two years, and only waited that long because we were scared to death that either my parents would find out or I’d get pregnant. (The first happened; the second didn’t.) I fear for girls who become sexually active before they’re emotionally ready, though — to please a boyfriend, or because “everyone’s doing it.” I encourage teens to talk to older, trusted adults before becoming sexually active, and definitely to use barrier protection (condoms) every time.

Karen Rayne: How can parents and teachers best help children and teenagers start down that road?

Joan Price: I was a high school English teacher for 22 years before I switched to a writing career, and I still have a great love for and enjoyment of teenagers. When I was teaching, many students talked to me or wrote in their journals about their relationships. Sometimes they confided intimate details that they didn’t feel they could tell their parents. I encourage teachers to make themselves accessible and safe, letting their students know they’re available, opening up topics in class that let the teenagers know that the teachers understand and have useful perspectives to share. I encourage parents to do the same thing, but realize — and please accept this — that as open-minded, accessible, and loving as they are, their teenaged sons and daughters might feel more comfortable talking to a different adult. (I’d love to hear from teenagers about how they feel about this topic.)

Also, see your body as a lifelong source of sexual pleasure, and see the beauty in older people. I know it’s difficult, when our society and especially the media stresses that beauty and sexuality are the domain of the young. For your own sake, please reject this notion. As you age, welcome the new image of sexuality that you’ll see in yourself and in your peers.

I also invited Karen’s readers to visit this blog:

As young people (and I’m talking to both teens and parents!), you may resist reading about people who are 60 or 70 or older talking so openly about their sexual attitudes and experiences, but I think it’s very important that we talk and you hear us, just as you want us to hear you.

I look forward to reading the comments of the teens and their parents who visit us here.


  1. Tom on May 30, 2007 at 2:47 am

    Joan (and Karen) you’re an inspiration. I’m in my 50’s and it is refreshing to read your words and perspectives on sexuality after 60 – and being willing to find common ground with your teenager kids about the topic (if emotionally ready).

    Yea so what did happen to good sex with consenting adults in their 50’s and 60’s? What a precious and regenerative energy to exercise and share with someone you love so deeply regardless of age.

    Do another interview!

  2. Gratitude on May 29, 2007 at 11:52 pm

    “Senior citizens are largely invisible in popular culture . . . .”

    Yes! And some more than others. It’s like we go from being in our forties to all of a sudden being in our 80’s, and it’s not a very sexy 80’s either. The age group of 45/50 to 75/80 is mostly missing from television, movies, and other media.

    I was talking to an enlightened, well educated man about post menopausal women, and he kept telling me how “awesome” they were (in the Lakota tribe) and kept giving me examples, all much much older women who he referred to as “old . . . grandmothers.”

    The sexy part of being older gets lost in popular thinking, as do the wise and splendid years between menopause (for women) and being an “old grandparent.” (Not that being a grandparent is necessarily in any way un-sexy.)

    When I realized that this was me, “too old to be young, and too young to be old” I really had to dig for role models, for health information that took sex into account, and just for recognition of my older sexuality. I’m a long time student of women’s studies and natural health and thought I knew what was up. (ha!) Incorporating sexuality into the mix, going through the “change of life,” was a big challenge. And knowing that there are no movies I can easily go see that have characters like me in them — i.e. I’m invisible in the popular culture — doesn’t help. Neither does our society’s well meaning ignorance about midlife and beyond.

    As for communicating with teens about older sexuality, when I was in my early 20’s I knew older people who were openly sexual. I guess by older I mean 30’s to late 40’s — that was older to me then — but I was fortunate to have these early role models and the knowledge, at that young age, that one’s sex life could continue indefinitely. These past friendships are more meaningful now than ever.

    Younger people continue to teach me new things too. It works both ways.

    I think older adults just being here, being openly sexy and sexual, makes a big difference. Other people will get used to us after a while.

    We (older folks) could watch that we don’t isolate ourselves too much as a “special group.” Yes, we are in need of recognition, and some of our issues are unique, but we can also keep in mind that all adults are sexual, often beginning in our teens, and sex doesn’t change all that much over the years.

    I like the idea of open discussions about sexuality among all ages!

  3. Alice on May 29, 2007 at 3:44 pm

    Hi, I’m a friend of Karen’s (since we were teenagers!). I agree with you that trusted non-parents, like teachers, can be extremely valuable sources of support for young people. And some people are ready for sex at seventeen, while others aren’t ready when they’re twenty.

    Senior citizens are largely invisible in popular culture, I’ve noticed. It’s a real shame, given how important their perspectives are.

    Anyway, I hope my husband and I are still getting it on when we’re 70 (or older). I can’t imagine it getting less fun as we age. Only more!

  4. Karen Rayne, Ph.D. on May 26, 2007 at 6:28 pm

    I think teenagers, with a little bit of exposure, can be very open to the idea of older people as sexual. Because they are experiencing their sexuality in such an extensive way, they “get” that everyone wants to be sexual.

    The problem comes with very little exposure. I remember the first time I heard one of my great-grandmothers tell an off-color joke (I was probably 19). I was shocked! But then, after a moment, I was delighted. My other great-grandmother was very sexually involved all of her life with an ever-changing rota of men, and I always delighted in hearing about her (current and past) experiences. I suspect that the majority of teenagers would have similarly supportive and interested reactions to sexuality among older people. Here is a major caveat: teenagers will only be accepting of someone else’s sexuality to the degree that someone else is accepting of their sexuality. If an older person isn’t supportive of a teenager being sexual, the teenager won’t be able to accept the older person being sexual. (By adolescent sexuality I don’t necessarily mean sexual intercourse, but sexuality in a much broader sense.)

    Teenagers are, by and large, pretty easy to talk with once the initial awkwardness is broken through. I would encourage all older people to sit down, one-on-one, with the teenagers in their lives to a game, a meal, or anything else interesting, and try to get some good, funny, engaging, conversations going. After a connection is made, throw some dirty jokes into the mix. I imagine the teenagers will eventually respond in kind. These kinds of conversations may lead to really great relationships, where the teenager is able to ask about some of the really hard, really baffling aspects of sex. But be ready! Once a teenager feels comfortable talking about sex, it can be hard to get them to stop!

    Karen Rayne, Ph.D. where people of all ages can join in a conversation about adolescent sexuality!

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