Fiction for Sex-Positive Seniors

It’s often frustrating to me that most contemporary fiction doesn’t reveal truths about my world as an older person. I’m always looking for books by writers of our generation about strong, senior characters. Given my own endless fascination with sex and relationships, I want the characters I read about to be sex-positive and in interesting relationships — or have interesting attitudes and activities if they’re not in relationships. I’ve compiled a few novels and short story anthologies that I’ve enjoyed lately whose authors and characters are men and women of our age and don’t shy away from sexuality. These recommended books portray characters whose sex lives are rich and varied–in reality for some, in their memories or imaginations for others.

Widow: Stories by Michelle Latiolais. I happened upon this collection of short stories accidentally — the title caught my eye because as a widow myself, I’m always grasping for understanding of how one goes on to live and love after the profound loss of a spouse. About a third of these stories are told from the point of view of widows; the others are narrated by women who experience loss in different ways. I had to ration myself to one story a day, because I needed time to think about — and sometimes recover from — what I had read. This passage, for example, made me cry, but I love it.

“For all her culture’s attention to the physical, it seemingly has little to salve the creatural anguish of losing someone else’s body, their touch, their heat, their oceanic heart. ‘Are you dating yet?” In other words, get another body … she doesn’t want another body, she wants the body she loved… One wants what one has loved, not the idea of love.”

An Available Man by Hilma Wolitzer. Edward Schuyler is a 62-year-old science teacher who is mourning the death of his wife. “Their sex life was more vibrant than anyone, including themselves, would have imagined,” we’re told early on. Grief is treated realistically: although Edward’s friends and family encourage him to start dating again, he worries that closing the door on grief might mean closing the door on his precious memories. (How real that felt to me!)  He does start dating, and his fumbling attempts are endearing because we understand what he’s feeling. “I’m heartbroken… and I’m horny. There was an icebreaker for you.” If the mix of grief and dating intrigues you, you’ll be glad you read this novel.

Smut: Stories by Alan Bennett. If the title gets your attention, that’s intentional, but the book really isn’t “smutty” by our standards, though the characters’ actions would be considered smutty by their peers. This little book offers two long short stories, “The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson” and “The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes” by a British dramatist born in 1934. Mrs. Donaldson is a 55-year-old widow (she seems older to me) whose job is role-playing medical conditions for doctors in training in an array of entertaining scenarios. She takes in boarders, college students who can’t always pay the rent, and so she watches them having sex instead. The other story deals with a narcissistic, closeted gay man who marries a woman and has trysts with a  man who blackmails him; his mother; and his father who — no, I don’t want to give away that part.

Breaking Out of Bedlam by Leslie Larson. Cora Sledge, an 82-year-old widow, has been forced to leave her home for an assisted-living facility because her kids have decided (and rightly so) that she’s a danger to herself. She decides to write a scandalous, tell-all journal about her life — past and present. Her story is sometimes tragic and often harsh, but because of her/Larson’s manner of telling it, it’s also hilarious. Add to the mix a romance in the nursing home (is he devoted? or trying to use and cheat her?) and a bit of a mystery– and did I mention that you’ll enjoy the sex scenes?

In One Person by John Irving.  I’ve saved this gem for last because it’s my favorite book of the year so far. The main character is a bisexual, 68-year-old man looking back at the influences — many of them sexual — that shaped his life. I’ll never forget Miss Frost, though it would be a spoiler to tell you why. This compelling, beautifully written novel will make you think about the people and events along your own life’s journey that helped you form your sexual identity and attitudes. It’s a long book (448 pages), but I can’t imagine you wanting to put it down. I listened to the Audible Audio edition, which is superb.


  1. Walker Thornton on January 5, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    I've never thought to pick books that focus on older adults! Though admittedly I am often bored by young-young books because they don't offer enough relevancy for my life.
    I would love to read books with life-affirming and sexually active older adults! Thanks for this list.

  2. Sienna Jae Fein on September 4, 2012 at 5:03 pm

    Thanks for this, Joan. I enjoyed An Available Man for its mixture of poignacy and droll humor, and because I listened to it on Audible, I'm going to pick up on your recommendation to listen to Audible's edition of Irving's In One Person.

    I was very much affected by the phrase "creatural anguish of losing someone else's body…their oceanic heart."

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