Seniors, when it comes to sex, use it or lose it, says a noted sex educator. 'You should continue to have good sex for the same reason you should continue to get good exercise: It's taking care of yourself,' she says. 'Do it whether you feel like it or no
Sexual behavior and response requires the complicated intertwining of environmental, physical (both anatomical and hormonal), and psychological factors. Research shows that about 66% of all women have sexual concerns, including lack of desire (33%), lack of pleasure in sexual contact (20%), pain with vaginal penetration (15%), problems with arousal (18% to 48%), problems attaining climax (46%), and complete lack of orgasm (15% to 24%).
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"The stereotype is grim," says Walter M. Bortz II, MD, author of We Love Too Short and Die Too Long. "The reality is that older people are a lot sexier than younger people think. The common notion is that when you are old you don't -- and maybe shouldn't -- have sex. Our studies have shown that older people are sexier in attitude and performance than they have been credited for."
And that performance has some interesting documentation.
"You must realize that in the U.S. the biggest use of prostitutes is on the day Social Security checks come out," says John Morley, MD, director of the division of geriatric medicine at St. Louis University.
So who's responsible for the myth that sex becomes unimportant as one ages?
"People who are older get very little support from the younger generation about sex," says Joani Blank, MPH, author of Still Doing It: Women and Men Over 60 Write About Their Sexuality. "Young people identify everyone in the next generation with their parents, and of course they don't have sex."
The danger is that people come to accept these stereotypes as true. They then risk losing one of the most important parts of their lives -- and their health.
"Sex is good for you," says the 63-year-old Blank, a sex educator for more than 25 years. "You should continue to have good sex for the same reason you should continue to get good exercise: It's taking care of yourself. Wake up your body again if it has been shut down. Do it whether you feel like it or not."
Bortz, a specialist in internal medicine at the Palo Alto Medical Clinic in California and a clinical associate professor of medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine, goes even further:
"We should as a moral responsibility continue to be sexually active," he says. "Is it OK for a 75-year-old widow to say, 'Sex is not on my agenda any more?' I would challenge that and say, 'Maybe you should make an overt effort to make the rest of your life as full as you can.' And that includes being daring, flaunting the stereotype.
"Not infrequently an older woman will tell me, 'I just don't give a damn about sex any more,'" Bortz continues. "I say, 'You should, because it is important for your life quality.' She will say, "Well, is it OK to stop making love if you feel like it?" And I say, 'No.' We agree it is not OK not to exercise. If we agree sex is good for you, you shouldn't stop -- regardless of apathy."