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]
7/31/19: I wrote this post in January 2017. I’m bringing it to the top again because this research is still sorely needed, and I don’t see the issues changing. Please feel free to contribute your thoughts!
I’m not looking for statistics, such as how many of us are having sex. Doesn’t that depend on (a) how the researchers and the subjects define “having sex” and (b) whether we have what we need (partner, privacy, physical ability, emotional intimacy) to have the kind of sex we want?
I’d like to see research into how we think about sex now, what determines quality of sex, what’s missing in our sexual worlds, what we’re learning about sex and about ourselves during our later years.
So while we’re waiting for the right research to be done, here are some questions for you if you’re over 50, 60, 70 and beyond:
1. If a researcher asked if you are “sexually active,” how would you answer? What would you mean by that answer?
2. How has the definition of “what is sex?” changed or evolved for you over time? What did it used to mean? What does it mean now? What made your definition change (if it changed)?
3. If you could be in any kind of sexual relationship you wanted, what would it be? Never mind how you might be judged — what would be ideal for the real you, maybe the secret you?
4. What would you like to tell our society about sex and aging?
I asked the good folks who follow my Naked at Our Age Facebook page, “If researchers wandered over here to learn what studies we’d like to see conducted about sex and aging, what would you suggest?” Here are some of their suggestions:
- “Studies toward normalizing serial monogamous relationships. As we age, the chances are that we will lose our partner. When that happens, it should be easier to establish new relationships without feeling that we are betraying the partner who has died. We don’t have to give up our former love in order to love another person. I think we can keep the truth and warmth of the past love, have an additional love or two, without feeling that we have violated the truth of the first.”
- “I’d love to see more of an in-depth study on how illness/ disability/ aging affect our sexuality and sex lives.”
- “How about a serious, non-judgmental look at the multi-faceted, complicated reasons for diminished libido as we age? (Hormonal, psychological, physiological.) Why it affects some and not others and methods – again multi-faceted – for those who indeed want to revitalize their libido.”
- “Can ingrained sexual scripts be changed enough so that new ways of ‘having sex’ aren’t seen as less satisfying than former ways?”
- “What is the most effective way to help older adults get on board with safer sex?”
- “The best ways to empower older adults to set, communicate, and respect sexual boundaries.”
- “I’m fascinated by what seems to be a growing popularity of consensual non-monogamy, open marriages, and open relationships in the over 50 crowd. Is this just anecdotal or have others noticed it too?”
- “Re-defining what ‘satisfying sex’ is to align better with how bodies change with age. This could go hand-in-hand with the ever-popular yet hardly discussed question, ‘What is sex?’ It can be so many things.”
- “Seniors discovering and accepting polyamory.”
I’m eager to hear from you, whether you’d like to answer one of my questions or add to the list of what researchers should study. Please post a comment and include your real age.
Let’s keep talking. The conversation has just begun!
P.S. When I invite you to comment, I’m inviting you — real people — to share your personal views. I’m not inviting ads for escort services, ED “cures,” cam sites, or other commercial enterprises. I shouldn’t have to say any of this, but the number of comments I have to delete indicates otherwise. [I know, the trolls and robots aren’t even reading this, but I have to try.]