Teaching counseling students about older adults & sex

Update 10/20: Wonderful experience talking to counseling students yesterday at San Francisco State with fabulous instructor Rebekah Skoor. Once the counselors-in-training realized I really would discuss anything they asked, we covered an array of topics about ageless sexuality, many of them very personal. They were also interested in understanding grief after loss of a spouse, and I talked openly about that, too. It was beautiful to be in a crowded room of mostly young people who were eager to understand and support the older person’s experience. I came away with more ideas about topics I’ll want to bring into focus in my new book, Naked At Our Age.

I’ve been invited to speak about sex & aging to graduate students of counseling at San Francisco State University in their one-and-only sexuality course. When the instructor, Rebekah Skoor, invited me, she told me, “This class has historically skipped over the lives of older adults in the curriculum and I am working to correct this critical oversight.” Kudos!

I want to help these future counselors understand senior sexuality, and also help them understand how to talk about it with clients who may be three times their age. Would you help me by commenting here about how you would like a counselor to talk to you about sex, and what issues you’d like help bringing up in the first place? Specifically, please comment on any or all of these questions:

What issues in your sex life — or, perhaps, lack of sex life — would you like a counselor to help you resolve?

How difficult would it be to speak to a younger counselor about your sex life?

How could a younger counselor help you feel more comfortable about opening up? Would you like her/him to initiate discussion of sex, or wait for you to bring it up?

What else would you like me to tell these counselors-in-training?

I suspect we’ll get lots of divergent points of view here, and that’s fine. Just because we’re seniors and elders doesn’t mean we feel the same way about anything! I’d like to collect these points of view to share with the counselors-in-training. Please post your comment, or email me and include permission to post it for you.

If you’re one of the students I’ll be talking to at SF State, please add your questions and comments — I’d love to hear from you.


  1. Rebekah Skoor on October 22, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    Joan,thank you so much for making the long trek down to San Francisco to share your wealth of knowledge, experience, humor, and compassion with our class. Looking out into the room, it was clear to me that the students were reveling in the mood of enthusiasm and openness you effortlessly created. I deeply appreciate your time, efforts, and all of the FUN you bring into learning about ageless sexuality.

    I hope we continue our contact and that I have the pleasure of having you back at San Francisco State in the future.

    All my best,

  2. Anonymous on October 20, 2009 at 4:19 am

    As a male college student in bay area what can I learn about sex that can help really help me enrich my sex life from a female over sixty, this is not meant as a negative I just want to know and Joan how is your sex drive now over sixty compared to when you were 20 years old like me ? thank you for this blog I desire to learn

  3. ElderGuru.com on October 19, 2009 at 11:13 pm

    Well, you have an interesting blog, hadn't seen one devoted to this subject before.

  4. paula, 57 on October 18, 2009 at 12:38 am

    I would talk to a counselor about sex and being older if the counselor had the attitude that being older is a good thing, and who was looking forward to this in her/his own life. A non judgmental attitude would also be a big plus.

    I agree with the first comment, which expresses the idea that the counselor would be wise to learn from the person being counseled.

    I think it's very important for educators to keep in mind that there are many forms of sex, and that sex doesn't just mean a man and woman having intercourse. There's sex with no intercourse, there's gay and lesbian sex, group sex, and solo sex. There's non goal oriented sex, where an orgasm may or may not happen. And other kinds of sex that I'm just not aware of right now.

    With solo sex especially we really need to work on removing the stigma about that, and I would hope that counselors would lead the way. As I've aged I find that often I prefer that to partner sex. I have opportunities for partner sex and am still attractive enough to have men chatting me up, even when I'm out with my husband.

    Looking back on my life I sometimes wish I'd been more okay about solo sex in the past, it would have saved me from a lot of disappointment stemming from not understanding sex and love. (As in sex does not necessarily mean love.) A lot of my younger women friends get this, fortunately. Sometimes its better to be alone, and you can still have sex with yourself. You need not miss out, and it doesn't mean you're not attractive. It's better to be on your own than with a partner who doesn't care for, respect, and support every aspect of you.

    As we age we might get even more picky. Also there's the issue of losing a spouse or significant other and not being ready to be with another partner, which is much more likely with age. We can still always express our sexuality, with or without a partner or partners.

  5. Anonymous on October 17, 2009 at 10:20 pm

    I am one of the counseling students looking forward to your class visit on Monday. I spent several hours today reading your terrific website and blog. I also enjoyed your San Diego radio interview. I look forward to hearing more from you on Monday.

  6. Anonymous on October 17, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    I talked about your blog with a 60+ male who made 3 comments. 1) "If I were talking to a counselor half my age I would think I knew way more about sex than the counselor." 2) "I would expect the counselor to know something about every type of sexual activity." 3)"If I wanted to talk about sex, I would bring it up myself. I wouldn't expect the counselor to bring it up first."
    And that was the extent of what he was willing to say on the subject. I had hoped to have a longer conversation, but based on his 3rd comment, I shouldn't have been surprised since he had not been the one to initiate the conversation.

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