March 2020: I’m spotlighting this post, originally written for Valentine’s Day 2016, for a couple of reasons: (1) I have so many new readers now; (2) This post drew some marvelous reader comments, and I hope to encourage more!
“We need to acknowledge that solo sex is real sex,” I asserted, and ten people in the audience quoted me on Twitter immediately. I was speaking at the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit in August 2015. This was my first time attending Woodhull, and it was an amazing experience:
The Sexual Freedom Summit features human rights activists, sexuality educators and researchers, professionals from the legal and medical fields, authors, sexual freedom movement leaders and organizational partners all working toward the time when sexual freedom is fully recognized as a fundamental human right.
It seems to me that “sexual freedom” includes freeing ourselves from our society’s outdated notions, especially as they restrict us, as seniors, from full sexual expression. No one is standing at our bedroom door proclaiming, “Thou shalt not masturbate” — at least I hope not — but many of us have internalized the idea that giving ourselves sexual pleasure is wrong, or a depressing substitute for “real” — aka “partner” — sex.
At our age, accepting self-pleasuring as “real” sex is even more important than it was in our youth. Here are some reasons:
- Many of us do not have a sexual partner at this time of our lives.
- Many of us who do have a partner are not able to have full sexual expression with that partner, due to medical or relationship issues.
- Our retreating hormones and decreased blood flow make it easy to forget about sex because there’s less urgency. Yet the less we experience arousal and orgasm, the more difficult it is to get there when we want to.
- Our responses change as we age, and the most direct way to stay in tune with what we need for sexual pleasure is to experiment with our own hands — and, of course, sex toys.
- Sexual arousal and orgasm are good for physical and emotional health. In The Ultimate Guide to Sex after 50, I list 33 reasons why sex is good for you — and by sex, I mean with or without a partner.
For those of you who would tell me (as people do, surprisingly), “Hey, masturbation is inferior to sex with a loving partner,” I would answer, “There’s nothing inferior about sex with the person who knows you best.” Plus the obvious — “How nice that you have a loving partner. Many of us don’t.”
Whether we’re pleasuring ourselves because it’s sex with ourselves or no sex, or we enjoy private sex, or maybe we just want to have fantasy sex with Jeffrey Dean Morgan, let’s agree that solo sex is not only real sex — it’s delightful sex.
Readers of my Naked at Our Age Facebook page (which I hope you’ll “like”), had this to add:
- We are 58 and 57 and we both enjoy solo sex. Sometimes, we do it together. Watching can be quite erotic but more often, we’ll do it before bed (usually separately in that case) to help us sleep. Mrs. has a variety of vibrators and we’re both definitely in favor. – Mr. and Mrs. Average Joe, erotica authors
- I’m a 67 y.o. man, and in the famous words of Woody Allen, I’m good at sex (with women) because I practice a lot when I ‘m alone. (;-). Seriously, it has a lot to do with why I’m still so erotically alive. And yes, incorporating mutual self-stimulation into play with partners is really exciting, and in some ways can feel even more emotionally intimate than PIV [penis in vagina].
- I’m 53. I have been going solo for.the past 11 years (not by choice), now that I am single I am looking forward to having a partner once again. The solo sex has been a necessity!
- I am 50. In my community sex is forbidden to singles and there is controversy about whether masturbation, therefore, is ‘sinful.’ My stance is masturbation is not sinful and not forbidden to those of us who are unmarried. I think “Solo Sex is Real Sex” but my Christian community may not accept such a statement.
- I am 58 and flown solo for quite a few years. On the one hand, it’s nice because I know all the best places and the exact technique. On the other, it’s obviously not as much fun as having a partner. However, that’s not always possible and I much prefer it over climbing into bed with a jerk. I wish I had more money for some of the great toys you’ve shown. I might never want a partner again if I did.
As Valentine’s Day approaches (note: I originally wrote this post for Valentine’s Day) and we’re bombarded with commercial messages about how to make the day more romantic with our loved one (soft lighting, mellow music, gifts of chocolate and roses included), let’s remember this:
Love starts with how we feel about ourselves, how giving and patient and accepting and loving we can be with the person who’s been in our life the longest. Let’s celebrate that with our own special touch (so to speak).
In January 2007, in the early years of this blog, I wrote a post titled, “Don’t call me a ‘little old lady'”!” Thirteen years later, my feelings have completely changed. Here’s what I wrote then:
I’m always surprised by how acceptable it is in our society to call older people disparaging names.
I was reading a newspaper article today about Barack Obama’s popularity in Illinois, which quoted Emil Jones Jr, president of the Illinois Senate, as saying, “Sitting across the table from me was a little old lady, said she was 86 years old,” who hoped she’d live long enough to vote for Obama for President.
I was startled by reading this mature woman described as “a little old lady,” and I didn’t like it. OK, I’m little (4′ 10″), 63 years old, and female — but “little old lady” belittles my maturity and experience and sounds like it would be uttered while patting me on the head. Didn’t the 86-year-old elder deserve a more dignified description? If she had been male, would she have been described by Mr. Jones as “an old geezer”?
…I know there’s no consensus about what to call older people without offending us! I like the term “senior,” although I know some dislike it. I like “elder” because it connotes wisdom and sounds respectful, even reverent — but I don’t feel old enough to deserve being called an elder. “Mature” is a nice adjective, though “mature adult” sounds stilted.
Here’s how I feel now: If a little old lady can make her living writing and speaking about senior sex — which I do — and keep her body strong by teaching line dancing, practicing Pilates, and walking miles a day — all of which I do — then go ahead and call me a “little old lady.”
I feel I can own, even enjoy, being called “little old lady” at this time of my life. I’m little (4’10”) and old (76), and my life is thrilling, so what’s the problem? I’ve also grown into the term “elder” (though not “elderly,” please).
When Gloria Steinem turned 40 and a reporter told her she didn’t look 40, she said, “This is what 40 looks like!” We continue to redefine what aging looks like, feels like, and acts like. Join me!
Q to you: How do you feel about being called “senior,” “old,” and so on? I invite you to comment. You’ll see 18 comments from the first post — let’s add to those. I know we won’t all agree, so please disagree politely.
I wrote the blog post below on December 10, 2010. I’m revising and reposting it on Dec. 8, 2019, as I near the 19-year anniversary of my first meeting with Robert. I find myself sad and contemplative — but also grateful that I had the honor of loving Robert and being loved by him. So much has changed in my life in the past 19 years that never would have happened if Robert hadn’t been looking for a new place to dance and found my line dance class. Ageless fitness works for everyone!
December 10, 2000 turned out to change my life in every way: my emotions, my personal growth, my sexuality, my view of aging, even my career. That was the evening that Robert’s life journey landed him in my line dance class. He had recently moved to Santa Rosa and was looking for a place to dance.
Here’s how I tell it in Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex After Sixty (the book that never would have been written without that eventful evening):
Love Dances In
The day that Robert Rice walked into my line dance class, my hormones thought they were twenty years old again. His smile, fit body, and grace of movement caught my eye immediately.
Then, when he started to dance, his years of tap, modern dance, and ballet training were revealed in every movement, and I was lost at sea. His nimble feet, muscled thighs, and sensually mobile hips commanded my attention. I wanted to touch the inviting curl of chest hair that peeked through the open top buttons of his shirt. I met his dazzling blue eyes and pretended to breathe. For the rest of the evening, I kept losing my place in the dance I was teaching because I couldn’t take my eyes off him.
Robert kept coming to class and danced into my heart. I tried to engage him in conversation after class occasionally, and he responded almost warily, answering me but not giving me any signals that my attentions were welcomed or reciprocated. I wondered: Is he gay? Attached? Or simply not interested in me?
I started inviting him for walks after class, which he accepted. We talked, but never very personally. I told him about the Internet health book I was writing, and he told me about his art and the English gardens of his travels. There was no touching, no eyes locking, no double entendres, no intimate details revealed.
We choreographed a line dance together, which felt extraordinarily intimate to me. We were using our bodies to communicate and showing each other movements, which was very sexy. But the harder I tried to push to the next stage, the faster he retreated.
December 8, 2019 update:
This important topic comes up so often when I speak or give interviews that I’m republishing this post from Oct. 2017. Please comment!
When do we lose the right to sexual expression? If we’re lucky enough to be active and independent now, we’re smart enough to realize that a time may come that we no longer can live on our own. What will you want for yourself? For your loved ones? How can you make sure that your wishes are respected?
Take some time to think about these ideas and questions:
- When do we lose the right to sexual expression?
- Does our right to sexual expression end if/when we can no longer live independently? If so, why?
- Who determines whether we can still express ourselves sexually, and by what guidelines do they make that decision?
- Do elders with dementia have the right to sexual expression? Who decides that, and on what basis?
- If staff members have a different personal belief about what’s appropriate sexual behavior (or non-behavior), do their values override our own?
- If family members are uncomfortable with us having a sexual relationship, should their wishes supersede ours?
Personally, I want the right to decide when and how I want to be touched sexually — whether by my own hand, a partner I’ve chosen, or a sex toy that they’d better not pry out of my arthritic hands — for the rest of my life. Don’t you?
If I end up living in a care facility, I imagine I won’t submit to rules easily, unless they are as progressive as the Hebrew Home at Riverdale (NY), which has had a sexual rights policy since 1995, and updates it periodically. Until other homes catch up, it’s up to us to make our wishes clear.
Have you written your Advance Directive for Sexual Rights? Here’s mine:
- Make sure I have an outlet and batteries to keep my sex toys in working order.
- Do not interfere with any warm connection I may be enjoying with any companion I choose, in any way I choose to express that connection.
- If I’m involved with a sexual partner, make sure I have easy access to safer sex protection.
- When I close the door—whether I’m alone or with another person—give me privacy.
- If I’m still capable of sharing information about senior sexuality with residents and or staff, provide me with opportunities to do that.
What are yours?
[Excerpted from The Ultimate Guide to Sex after Fifty: How to Maintain – or Regain – a Spicy, Satisfying Sex Life by Joan Price]