Talking to teens about senior sexuality

I was recently interviewed by Karen Rayne, Ph.D., a sex educator for teenagers and their parents who has a blog about adolescent sexuality . I’d like to repeat that interview here and get your comments:

Karen Rayne: Why do you think senior sexuality is important?

Joan Price: It’s important because we’ve been seen by society and by the media (and sometimes by ourselves!) as asexual, unsexy, and altogether icky if we are sexually active and enthusiastic about it. We need to change that, not just for those of us who are already in our golden years, but for all ages. I offer this plea to young people: Help us change our society’s view of older people as either sexless or ludicrous and disgusting for wanting sex. Realize that our bodies change, but we’re still the same lusty and loving people that we were when we were your age.

Karen Rayne: What do you see as the life-long path that can lead to healthy senior sexuality?

Joan Price: Acceptance of our own sexuality and open-mindedness about any consensual sex taking place between people of age to give consent — and by that I mean emotional age, not legal age of consent necessarily. I know that at age 17, I was fully ready to engage in sex with my 19-year-old boyfriend. We had been dating for two years, and only waited that long because we were scared to death that either my parents would find out or I’d get pregnant. (The first happened; the second didn’t.) I fear for girls who become sexually active before they’re emotionally ready, though — to please a boyfriend, or because “everyone’s doing it.” I encourage teens to talk to older, trusted adults before becoming sexually active, and definitely to use barrier protection (condoms) every time.

Karen Rayne: How can parents and teachers best help children and teenagers start down that road?

Joan Price: I was a high school English teacher for 22 years before I switched to a writing career, and I still have a great love for and enjoyment of teenagers. When I was teaching, many students talked to me or wrote in their journals about their relationships. Sometimes they confided intimate details that they didn’t feel they could tell their parents. I encourage teachers to make themselves accessible and safe, letting their students know they’re available, opening up topics in class that let the teenagers know that the teachers understand and have useful perspectives to share. I encourage parents to do the same thing, but realize — and please accept this — that as open-minded, accessible, and loving as they are, their teenaged sons and daughters might feel more comfortable talking to a different adult. (I’d love to hear from teenagers about how they feel about this topic.)

Also, see your body as a lifelong source of sexual pleasure, and see the beauty in older people. I know it’s difficult, when our society and especially the media stresses that beauty and sexuality are the domain of the young. For your own sake, please reject this notion. As you age, welcome the new image of sexuality that you’ll see in yourself and in your peers.

I also invited Karen’s readers to visit this blog:

As young people (and I’m talking to both teens and parents!), you may resist reading about people who are 60 or 70 or older talking so openly about their sexual attitudes and experiences, but I think it’s very important that we talk and you hear us, just as you want us to hear you.

I look forward to reading the comments of the teens and their parents who visit us here.

Village Voice: Knockin’ Vintage Boots

“People are living longer, healthier lives so why shouldn’t their sex lives keep on going? And why are we so afraid to imagine that they do?” writes Tristan Taormino in “Knockin’ Vintage Boots: Golden girls get their groove on past 60,” which appeared May 22, 2007 in the Village Voice.

I’m quoted in this section:

…. “At what age do you plan to retire your genitals?” That’s what Joan Price asks those who consider sexy seniors “icky.” Price, author of Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk About Sex After Sixty, says, “The main misconception is that seniors are either asexual, pathetic, or ludicrous because they’re still interested in sex.” She was so frustrated with the lack of positive images and information, she wrote a book about what she calls “ageless sexuality.” Price tackles a myriad of subjects from serious issues like dealing with painful intercourse to spicy stories of threesomes.

Price’s book and accompanying blog, [Betty] Dodson’s work, and [Deirdre] Fishel’s documentary have all kick-started a much needed dialogue. They not only prove that seniors do in fact have fulfilling sex lives, they can also empower older folks to get busy.

However, there is a serious lack of resources for the complex sexual issues facing people over 60, including illness and disability, hormonal changes, a decrease in libido and arousal, and the effect of common medications, not too mention coping with major changes to the vagina post-menopause, including dryness, atrophy, and a thinning of the tissue that can cause tearing, discomfort, and pain.

Taormino quotes Betty Dodson as saying, “Sex is such an important part of intimacy and bonding, of touching and feeling connected with a partner, of accepting our bodies and the wonderful physicality of which we’re capable.” Exactly!

Do you agree?

Beyond Sags and Bags: MSN.com

Thanks to Jeremy Egner for his enlightening article, “The New Definition of ‘Sexy'” on the men’s lifestyle channel at MSN.com.

Egner cites a recent poll of more than 10,600 American adults that found that “sexy is more an attitude than it is a perfect physique.” More than 76 percent said a woman can be sexy if she was a size 14 or larger (well, sure!) and that “women (84 percent) are much more likely than men (63 percent) to say sexiness derives from an intangible quality … rather than looks.

Egner interviewed me about how non-physical qualities become even more sexy as we age. On page 2, he writes,

But as we get older and gain status, emotional security and hard-won wisdom, we’re looking less for hotties and babymakers than for compatible mates that will help create durable and rewarding relationships, says Joan Price, author, blogger and self-described “advocate of ageless sexuality.”

Such considerations feed our personal ideas about what is sexy. Other factors include our awareness of our own changing bodies.

“We have wrinkles, sags and bags. If having perfect faces and unlined bodies was a prerequisite for sexiness, we’d be out of the story already,” says Joan Price, 63, who wrote about evolving sexuality in her book, Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk About Sex After Sixty. “We yearn for the same touch and intimacy but we have to first internalize the changed idea of what sexy is. We have to see ourselves as sexy.”

Price recalls asking her 70-year-old husband Robert, whom she married last May, to explain exactly how he could consider her to be as beautiful as he claimed when she could plainly see all her lines and physical imperfections whenever she looked into a mirror. (So don’t expect those sorts of questions to go away anytime soon, guys.)

“He told me, ‘If I am to know myself and accept my own aging process, how could I want anything less from you?'” Price says. “I tell that story sometimes when I’m asked to speak somewhere and women always ask, ‘Does Robert have a brother?'”

“When two people who really accept themselves come together, that’s where good sex happens,” she adds. “The most powerful sex organ is the brain.”

With this article, though, is a slide slow of the so-called “Sexiest Women Over 35,” which I found very disappointing. Why? The oldest “woman over 35” is Elle Macpherson, who is just 44 (a teenybopper in our world). Why isn’t Sophia Loren (73) on that list? Julie Christie (66)? Lena Horne (88)? Or any of the other women listed on my post, How Old Are They Now?

Or does “over 35” have a nine year cut-off date?

This list is one more reminder of how much work is left to do in tearing down the stereotype of sexiness as synonymous with youth, and substituting real live role models of sexiness twice as old as the youngsters MSN.com chose as the “sexiest women over 35”!

Best Life magazine: “a lot of kissing and touching and maybe a sex toy”


I’m quoted/mentioned extensively in “She Hunts by Night,” an article by Colin McEnroe in Best Life magazine, April 2007, about “How to handle the (new) sexually empowered over-40 woman.” McEnroe, a midlife man, says,

Many of us men spent the first half of our lives trying to talk women into having sex with us. Now we occasionally try to talk them out of it … We live in a new culture of sexually empowered older women… The last two years have seen a rockslide of books both documenting and encouraging the sexual reblossoming of women age 40 and up.

… Joan Price told me she wrote [Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex After Sixty] partly because she couldn’t find any books for people like her. Price is a fitness instructor from Northern California who found herself “in a new relationship and having the best sex of my life, but not without challenges.”She went looking for information and found “doom and gloom…you’re gonna wither and dry up…give it up…sex is for the young.”Price wrote a book that is solution oriented. By that, I mean there’s information about actual solutions you can rub on parts of you that aren’t as damp as they used to be, and there’s a chapter about sex toys, because Price believes that female orgasm, post-50, is “much more subtle and takes longer to get there … a lot of kissing and touching and maybe a sex toy.”

… “What we want from men is not what they think we want,” agrees Price. “Men think we want a raging erection and the ­Energizer bunny. We have always wanted foreplay. Now we want even more, so much that we don’t even want to call it foreplay. I actually recommend that older couples schedule lovemaking. Schedule it at a time of day when you both have a lot of energy, which is usually not when you’re falling asleep at night. There’s a reason they call it ‘afternoon delight.’ And schedule at least two hours.”

I want to point out here that my “two hours” recommendation isn’t meant to intimidate anyone or suggest marathon, two-hour intercourse. Rather, the two hours includes all the “surroundings” of good sex that make it great: a long warmup; lots of kissing, touching, talking and laughing; leisurely sex; and time for cuddling and maybe even napping afterwards. It’s a total experience of intimacy, not just the “go for the goal” part.