Amazon Prime jolted me recently with two stellar offerings — one series and one film — that feature aging characters who don’t fit any of the stereotypes. Both affected me profoundly, and I recommend them to you:
At 68, Mort (played masterfully by Jeffrey Tambor) comes out as a trans woman who wants to be called Maura. In this sweet, smart, and strongly acted ensemble series, we see the strengths and vulnerabilities of Mort/Maura and a family of ex-wife and three adult children — who make a ton of relationship mistakes of their own.
This 10-episode series resolves many questions and leaves enough unanswered to allow for a second season, which is in the works — hurray!
Yes, there’s lots of sex in Transparent, but (boo) only Maura’s children are having it. Maura is more interested in establishing her identity and being accepted by her family than in having sex with anyone — at least in season 1. Will this change in the second season?
Craig (James Cromwell) is watching Irene (Geneviève Bujold), his wife of 61 years, lose her memory. He loves her fiercely and wants to protect her by building a house that will be easier for her to live in.
Although Craig has been building houses his whole life, he’s no match for the bureaucracy that insists on permits and strict adherence to building codes that are irrelevant to Craig (the plans are in his head; the lumber came from a tree he felled; the knowledge came from his father and a lifetime of craftsmanship and self-sufficiency).
The love and chemistry between Craig and Irene are powerful. The tenderness in their loving looks and caresses will make you applaud or cry or both. And rather than portray this elderly couple as sexless, there’s a sexy undressing scene early in the film that includes, “This never gets old. We always did passion well.”
This film is based on real people and actual events. Don’t miss it.
What films have you watched that portrayed aging and relationships in a non-stereotypical way? I look forward to your recommendations.
Urologist Dudley S. Danoff, MD, FACS, is the author of Penis Power: The Ultimate Guide to Male Sexual Health (Del Monaco Press, 2011). It’s an upbeat and even entertaining guide to the complexities, myths, facts, and vagaries of owning a penis (or, in my case, liking penises and being endlessly fascinated by them). Dr. Danoff covers how they work and what’s going on when they don’t work—psychologically as well as physiologically.
My male readers often write me with age-related questions about their penises: what’s a “normal” change with age vs. what’s a medical problem, how they can deal with erection difficulties, how to negotiate new needs and issues with a partner. “We are tragically ill-informed about the penis,” says Dr. Danoff, and he aims to change that.
Although this book is not specifically aimed at our age group, all of it applies to us, and I guarantee you’ll say, “I didn’t know that” several times as you read, even if you’ve owned a penis for 50, 60, or 70 years.
I invited Dr. Danoff to answer questions that specifically address men age 60+ and the women in their lives. I welcome your comments.
Q: What is your big message to our older men?
A: Sex is good for you. It maintains overall physical strength and cardiovascular health, and most of all, it keeps you invigorated. A man’s penis is there to serve him from puberty to old age.
Q: What are the most common misunderstandings that men age 60+ have about their penises or about their sexuality in general? What do you wish all men knew as they aged?
A: By far, the most frequent complaint I hear from men is that they do not have the same level of sexual desire they used to have. It takes longer to get an erection, it takes longer to ejaculate, it takes longer to get aroused again after they make love, and their erections are not as firm. These conditions are all predictable changes that occur as men get older.
Attitude is the key to penis longevity. My super-potent patients tell me that sex gives them as much joy at 70 as it did at 20. Some say the sex is even better! Equal pleasure can be obtained from occasional, prolonged intercourse with one orgasm as with frequent, rapid intercourse with multiple orgasms.
All men, as they age, deserve active, healthy sex lives as long as they remain physically fit. Do not expect to do at 60 what you did at 40. Adjust your sexual activities as your body changes, just as you adjust other activities. Look upon the adjustment as both a new challenge and a new opportunity.
As you age, learn to use your mind and imagination to make up in creativity what you may lack in physical strength. As long as you are able to breathe, move your extremities, maintain relative control over your bodily functions, remain alert enough to identify the date and day of the week, and sustain a positive mental outlook, you can continue to exercise your penis power indefinitely.
Q: What would you say to many men age 60+ who tell me that they don’t get good information or direction from their urologists when they report undependable or nonexistent erections? They are commonly told, “Well, you’re older now,” or “It’s ED,” without a medical workup to see whether some underlying condition is causing the ED.
A: Find another urologist who is knowledgeable about erectile dysfunction and is willing and able to thoroughly evaluate you. A comprehensive evaluation, including a full cardiovascular evaluation, by a qualified urologist is essential. Endocrine issues, such as low testosterone or unrecognized diabetes, can then be treated, and erectile dysfunction will improve. Knowledge is power. There are many treatments on the urologic menu for erectile dysfunction, but first you need a proper diagnosis to identify the underlying cause. Treatment is both available and effective in almost all cases and will result in satisfactory erections.
Q: Many men would rather sever their own leg than admit to a doctor that they are experiencing erectile difficulties. Why is it important to see a doctor before self-treating with drugs or other assists?
A: Many serious medical conditions that are first manifested by erectile difficulties go unrecognized. It is absolutely essential to get a full evaluation by a qualified urologist in all cases of erectile dysfunction in order to determine the presence or absence of some serious (or not so serious) medical problem and treat it accordingly. For example, if low serum testosterone is found, testosterone replacement therapy can give spectacular results. Under no circumstances should a man self-treat his erectile dysfunction with over-the-counter preparations without first determining the presence or absence of an underlying medical condition that is correctable.
Q: How can women enhance their partner’s and their own sexual pleasure when erections and intercourse are not the main events?
A: Most importantly, do not think old! Sexual pleasure is all about attitude. If your mind is strong and your partner’s mind is strong, intimacy and sex without vaginal penetration can be enormously pleasurable. The key is not to lament what you have lost. Be grateful for what you still have and make the most of it. Age is not a deterrent to great sex. Rather, it is a challenge and an opportunity.
If you keep your enthusiasm, you can compensate for or even delay the effects of aging. You do not stop having sex because you are old—you get old because you stop having sex! Talking candidly with your partner about aging is the best way to find a solution for maintaining a healthy sex life.
Q: What else do you want women to understand about their male partners?
A: Older men are just as penocentric as younger men are, even though capacity may be diminished. I would encourage older women to become more “penis oriented.” Older women who are penis oriented have more fun and also have better marriages, more faithful partners, and greater personal fulfillment in all aspects of their lives. If you believe that each partner has the mutual responsibility to satisfy the other’s needs, then it follows that you will hold up your end of the bargain as a woman by making your partner’s penis one of your top priorities.
Being penis oriented does not imply a belittlement of female sexuality. It simply means learning to understand and accommodate an older man’s penis needs by approaching that task with all of the pride and skill that you would bring to any other endeavor. I assure the older woman that if you take the steps to become informed, you and your man will reap rewards you have only dreamed about.
Images are from Penis Power: The Ultimate Guide to Male Sexual Health by Dudley Seth Danoff, MD. ©2011 Dudley Seth Danoff. Reprinted by permission of Dudley Seth Danoff. Copies of the book are available at your local bookstore or may be ordered through Amazon.com.
You can’t ignore joint pain — but don’t let it push you into avoiding sex! When sexual positions and activities worsen pain, we can find props and positions that work for us so we feel the pleasure, not the pain. Julie Weingarden Dubin interviewed me about sex and joint pain for Grandparents.com, and the interviewgot me thinking about more tips I’d like to share with you. Here they are.
What can we do to minimize joint pain before and during sex?
- Schedule sex! Spontaneity is vastly overrated when it comes to sex at our age! We get more pleasure if we plan for it, and that’s true for avoiding joint pain especially. Make a “sex date” in advance, whether you’re newly dating or long-time partners. This way, you can both anticipate it and make time for it, which raises the pleasure and decreases the stress. Turn off the phone ringer, the computer, the gadgets, lock the door, and just enjoy each other.
- Time your anti-inflammatory medication so it kicks in before your “sex date.”
- Get some physical exercise before getting naked. This lubricates the joints and gets you in touch with your physicality. Dance, walk, cycle, do yoga — whatever you like to do.
- Get a supportive sex cushion (no kidding, they exist) to make any position more comfortable. For example, the Wedge by Liberator is terrific for assisting back, hips, knees.
- Have lots of warm-up/ foreplay/ arousal in a comfortable position. This
way you’ll need less time in a less comfortable position when you get to
- Use a sex toy to hasten orgasm, minimizing the time in a less comfortable position or action. For example, if your partner likes manual stimulation (and who doesn’t?), but that hurts your arthritic wrist or hands, use a sex toy to help out. A vibrating cock ring or masturbation sleeve for the man doesn’t require the partner’s wrist. For the woman, try one of the many vibrators that “rests” in the right position with no or minimal effort to hold it in place. I review sex toys from a senior perspective – which includes whether they’re easy on arthritic wrists! – right here on this blog. Look for the label “sex toys” or “vibrator reviews” in the right-hand column.
See these reviews for ideas.
I’ve been asked, “What would recommend as the BEST sex positions for seniors?” I have to answer this way:
There’s nothing that “seniors’ in general will agree on, whether politics, movies, or the best sex position. We’re all individual in finding positions we find comfortable, and maybe your favorite position isn’t comfortable for your partner, or doesn’t do much for you sexually. It’s all a matter of trial and negotiation. Creativity and a lot of laughter help, too!
Do you have any tips for avoiding joint pain during sex? Please comment!
One of my favorite sex nerds, Dr. Debby Herbenick, recently retweeted something that I’ve been thinking about for a while:
True. @hotaction: “Everyone should spend some time looking at photos of naked old people because that’s what the future looks like.”
— Dr. Debby Herbenick (@mysexprofessor)
Today is the 20th anniversary of the date that I met my partner. In the last two decades, we’ve both changed a lot. We’re both much more secure and solid in who we are. We’ve grown and challenged each other to overcome many of the habits that caused friction in our lives and in our connections with other people. We’ve learned many, many ways to support our relationship. And yes, our bodies have changed, too. While I’d love to have the physical resilience that I used to have, I wouldn’t trade my current life for the one I had back then. I needed that ability to bounce back- without it, I never would have survived the drama I caused myself and others.
After two decades with Elizabeth, I think she’s more beautiful than ever before and I’m more drawn to her than I could have imagined when we first met. And I think about the many people who stop being attracted to their partners and trade them in for someone younger. This seems to be more common for men, but I’ve also seen women do the same thing in increasing numbers. While I’m fully supportive of people creating the relationships they want and ending them when they no longer serve them, I can’t help but wonder about our tenacious grip on the idea that younger is better and how that affects things.
In a world that only presents the latest 18-25 year olds as sexy, it’s a challenge to not compare oneself or one’s partner with that fantasy. Personally, I’ve found that became easier when I stopped watching TV and reading the drivel that passes for news (and don’t even get me started on popular magazines). But it takes more than that. Every time you compliment someone’s appearance by telling them that they look young, you’re reinforcing the idea that we lose value as we age. I feel sadness around that because it encourages us to deny our histories, to pretend we’re something we aren’t, and to create an image of who we wish we were rather than celebrating who we’ve become. And let’s not forget that many of the cosmetic treatments to make us look younger don’t work all that well and are promoted with ads that are photoshopped like crazy. My willing suspension of disbelief snapped a long time ago.
Maybe I’ll have something different to say in another 20 years. But right now, I think that the physical expression of experience and growth is incredibly sexy. It’s an outward manifestation of the individual’s evolution. Personally, I find that much more attractive than someone who strives to look like they’re still 23. This is something that many of us have to practice. When the only images that we see define attractiveness as equivalent to youth, it can be difficult to not make comparisons.
I’ve spoken with quite a few people who are convinced that nobody will want to have sex with them because they have grey hair, or wrinkles, or scars, or stretch marks, or health concerns, or any of the other effects of age. I feel sadness that they’re so sure that they’re unattractive to others because they’re unattractive to themselves. I wonder how much of that comes from never having thought of people over a certain age as desirable. I wonder how much of that comes from the fact that so much of the breathless commentary about attractiveness (especially female attractiveness) is tied up in how young someone looks. What a waste of the incredible beauty and wisdom that surrounds us, if only we could see it.
If Elizabeth and I are fortunate, we will have lots more time together. And someday, we may get to be like the people in this photograph. I look at it and see something to be celebrated. I also know that many people will look at it and feel disgust, shame, or squicked. So what are you going to do when you get to be that age? How are you going to feel about yourself or your partner(s)? Will you be able to be naked with your partner without feeling self-disgust or shame?
The time to start thinking about older people being sexy is right now. This is the time to stop shaming elders who express desire or who want to have sex. This is the time to stop mocking their bodies or describing them negatively. When you get older, you’ll be struggling with a lot of cultural momentum and the longer you go along with it, the harder it’ll be when you finally get around to resisting (if you do). That’s especially true for women and their partners, given the extra pressure and judgement attached to youth and attractiveness for women. But really, we’re all affected by the idea that younger is better.
Instead of thinking of someone as “looking good for their age,” how about simply letting them “look good”? Instead of telling someone that they look so young, compliment them on something specific like their hairstyle or their outfit. And instead of saying insulting things about older people’s sexuality, acknowledge the feeling as your own judgment. There’s a huge difference between “that’s gross” and “I feel discomfort.” The more we can change how we think and feel about elders and sexuality, the better off we’ll be if and when we get there.
I also highly recommend Joan Price’s book Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud About Senior Sex. Even if you’re not there yet, there’s a good chance that you will be and many of the sexual concerns that can arise are much easier to deal with when you aren’t surprised by them. Joan interviewed and quoted lots of medical professionals, sex educators, and therapists, so it’s like you’re getting the benefit of a whole panel of experts in one book. It’s amazing.
Good Vibrations, an occasional university professor, and a sexuality educator. He teaches and writes about sex-positivity, sex & shame, sexual practices and communities, relationships, and other related topics. Check him out at his website, twitter, or on Facebook.