Challenges to Intimacy: Iris Krasnow on Sex After 60, 70, 80

sex-after-iris-krasnow-interviewIris Krasnow hit the best-seller list a dozen years ago with her raw portrait of modern coupledom, “Surrendering to Marriage.” It was one in a series of non fiction books that have reflected Krasnow’s journey through life. She first became an author in her 30’s as a journalist with four children under three. Her topic: balancing work and family. Next, as she matured, came one on self-discovery and her book on the challenges of staying married.

Now, at almost 60, Krasnow is the author of the new book “Sex After…. .” In it, she investigates how people sustain intimacy while facing the challenges of life-stage transitions. She asked more than 150 men, women and experts, “What is sex like after childbirth, menopause, breast cancer and turning 60, 70 or 80?”

And wow! Did she get answers.

Senior Planet spoke to Krasnow just two weeks after “Sex After…” arrived in bookstores and started getting attention from sources as varied as “O” the Oprah Magazine and the Washington Post.

You’re in a long marriage and you’re approaching 60. How do you feel about sexuality now and did you find a common thread among the older women you interviewed?

Over 35 years, thousands of people have told me the most intimate details of their lives. Women have talked to me about shattering the myth that after menopause you have low libido. These women were enjoying more sexual satisfaction and intimacy than they did in their youth.

Women are living longer than ever, they’re outliving their husbands and partners generally, and they’re dating again. Because of the extended life cycle, because of better drugs, because of heightened fitness levels, women are not only living longer they’re living better.

I love growing older. I feel more youthful and energetic and hopeful than ever.

Your book is filled with surprises, but perhaps none as revealing as those in the chapter “Giddy Golden Girls.” Since you’ve been writing about relationships for 35 years, was there anything that surprised you when talking to those women over 70?

I talked to young people who were shocked at old ladies having sex. And there’s another group of people that say, “They do it. That’s great, but I don’t want to know about it.” And there’s me – I knew it was going on, but I didn’t know the extent of it. I think the surprise for me was also about the power of intimacy over the power of sex.

This need for intimacy is a major theme running through “Sex After… .” You write about how intimacy evolves and often makes sex better later in life. But you also say that sex is a bridge to intimacy. So one can lead the other and vice versa?

Sex is never just sex. Twenty-year-olds who are ‘hooking up’ are hoping the sexual chemistry will lead to some kind of emotional connection beyond the physical hookup. And I didn’t talk to one person over 60 who was single and dating and wasn’t looking for both the sexual chemistry and the emotional commitment.

One of the experts you quote, Dr. Melanie Davis, co-president of the Sexuality and Aging Consortium, says, “A pervasive myth is that older women stop wanting to be sexually active after menopause… It’s also a myth that the quality of sex declines with age.”

Even though we’re in 2014, the image of the sexless grandmother still exists. I’ve met the spunkiest, most sexually active women who are in their 70’s and 80’s. These women are vibrant and strong and care about sex.

Another myth is that is that “happily ever after” just happens automatically. You really need to put sex on your to-do list. People have to remember to be sexual. It takes effort and work; it’s a process.

Some women reading about the giddy golden girls – those seniors in your book who are having the best sex ever – may feel they’re somehow not up to par if they don’t want to have sex several times a week.

Sexuality matters to us until the day we die. How we manifest that is different for every woman. There is no gold standard. There is no perfect sex life. What matters the most is how you feel about your sexuality, your level of desire and your libido. You want to communicate your sexual expectations, desires and performance levels to your partner and for your partner to be on the same page. Problems arise when you don’t match.

There are women who are post-menopausal, have lost their libido and don’t want to be on hormones or use the “vaginator” that stretches female sex organs. There were a few women I interviewed who were in intimate relationships with men whose libido matched theirs. They had zero interest in sex and were happy just hiking in the woods.

What about the sexuality of a woman who doesn’t have a partner and may not want one?

One woman I spoke to had been married a long time, had enjoyed a great sex life and now can’t imagine being with another man. She says, “I’m just not interested. I’ll go to the opera. I’ll play tennis. I’ll golf. But I don’t want someone in my bed.” She is the woman who gets a vibrator, and it may be her first. Some women just never thought of pleasuring themselves. They grew up feeling it was naughty and had a lot of guilt about it. For them, this is a new adventure.

Vibrator sales are huge. I can tell you that a big chunk of that industry is sales to women over 60.

Several of the older couples in your book are masters of “outercourse” or are attempting to master it. Is that a word you made up? What does it mean exactly?

Outercourse is a word that I heard over and over again among people active in the sexuality-and-aging field. It means “everything but…” It’s lovemaking without penetration, but that involves kissing, nuzzling, hugging, oral sex… everything but. It’s pleasuring each other with sexy talk. Perhaps it’s erotica or sex toys. It’s playful and comes in quite handy as you age.

That’s really what many women enjoy – young and old: taking your time and exploring each other physically. One 70-year old woman attended a Tantric sex workshop with her husband where they were exploring conscious loving, not just slam-bam sex.

I love the idea of a kind of naughty, playful, arousing alternative to hot sex, which isn’t always possible. And by the way, it’s not always possible for people in their 30’s either, or right after you’ve had a baby.

And men? Their ability to perform changes with age, too, and, as you point out, after prostate surgery.

There is the 85-year-old Viagra King who wants to be rock hard, but I’ve interviewed 43-year- old men who are taking Viagra for performance issues. Everyone is so anxious in this world. Part of the success in sexual intimacy and sustaining a relationship is being able to relax and feel comfortable and nurtured by the person you’re with. One of the most profound messages in my book is to pick the right person in the first place.

Prostate issues are really important. I interviewed one of the top urologists in the country, Dr. Mark Soloway, and his warning to all men is don’t be so quick to go under the knife. If you’re 73 and you have a slow-growing cancer, it’s probably not going to kill you. Soloway is a big proponent of active surveillance. That’s a very important message for men with a high PSA and women with newly diagnosed men. (Click here to learn more about active surveillance for prostate cancer.

Another expert you talked with, Deborah Nichols, a board-certified women’s health nurse practitioner, says older women lose the tingling sensation of being aroused and have to rethink the nature of desire. Does that sensation weaken in men, too?

In the end, it’s all about blood flow. Men get an erection from blood flow. Look at the obese man sitting on the couch and slugging back beers who can’t get it up. Instead of going to a physician and getting five prescriptions, get on a treadmill buddy and stop eating the fettuccine with five-cheese sauces! Give it a try.

I’d say the same thing to a woman. As I get older, I eat less and I exercise more. And it’s got to be more and more, honey, as you get older.

“Sex After…Women Share How Intimacy Changes as Life Changes” (Gotham Books) is available now in hardcover, for Kindle and as an audiobook. Find it on Amazon.

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Rosa

I am reading this article and comments about and from all these 60+ menopaused women having wild sex and sex desire… I honestly cannot understand, I had a complete histerectomy when I was 33 but my sexual desire started declining about 9 years after my surgery, and completly gone by my 44th birthday, I am 51 now and still now ZERO sexual interest, hormones are out of the table due to cancer risk… my doctor tells me this is the same issue all women go thru during menopause and even if they take hormons, it doesnt get much better… so,… Read more »

I am a 60yr old widow who was fortunate enough to meet a widower 5 years ago and the sex was amazing for 6 months – then he withdrew from me almost overnight. He has never really kissed me the same way again or made love to me passionately. I have asked time and time again why but he says “it’s just him” . I am heartbroken as I thought I had been given a second chance at happiness. We love each other and we live together and get on well but I am a really tactile and passionate woman… Read more »

Deborah

I’m 61 and my husband is 60. We’ve been married for 11 years and have had a really good sex life until recently when he started having problems maintaining an erection or staying stiff enough to penetrate. So now every time we try to have sex, he panics and starts trying all kinds of different positions or wants me to keep on giving him oral until he’s absolutely ready to penetrate. My body does not do these the things he wants me to do anymore. My hips start giving me so much pain, I could cry. Still he thinks it’s… Read more »

Fortunate

I am going into my 86th year and have been fortunately to have had a very constant lover my same age for over 30 years. We are both past the point of sexual gymnastics. For several years, he has had difficulty climaxing, but I am able to help him become aroused enough so that we can have intercourse. I think he has remained a constant is that I am multi-orgasmic which gives him great pleasure. We also have what we call “discursive sex,” which means we talk a lot while we are engaged but not necessarily active. Our favorite time… Read more »

Ray

Thanks for everyone’s honest comments. You have helped me realize I’m not alone or abnormal.

Sally

What lubricant do you recommend for a woman in her late 60’s? Your website recommends important ingredientsDimethicone or dimethiconol, as good sealants to keep moisture in and protect from tearing.

Jesse Foster

Ky Jelly Sally Its The Best And Ky Jel For Mine And Yours have Fun And have safe Sex

Wendy L Schmidt

Well, I think you may have some people telling tales or you simply haven’t talked to enough. I have three girlfriends over 60 including myself. None are have vaginal sex anymore. Because hormones are not an option (cancer in the fam.) Atrophy does happen and it is not an easy pill fix. It’s extremely painful to have actual intercourse. And, unless you are married or partners with a sadistic jerk, they aren’t going to enjoy watching you in pain. So, they certainly do other things but not that. And this whole idea that lots of women over 60 are having… Read more »

Paul

Im 65 years old and my girlfriend is 60 . We have been using coconut oil as a lube for about 3 years now. Theres nothing better, if you get too much, you just rub it in to your skin, its edible so when shes goes down, its perfect. I love massageing her butt with it!

Edward

I had prostate cancer when I was 50. I am now 70. I only ever asked my wife for sex one time about six months after my prostate was removed. She refused. I probably couldn’t have done it anyways. That was one of a number of reasons why we are no longer together. I have been with my girlfriend for ten years. We used to have a good sex life for the first two years we were together. She says it hurts. OK I can deal with that. We don’t have to have intercourse. There are a lot of alternatives.… Read more »

DeCaf

Married 50 years no kids and my husband never wanted sex, intimacy just nothing. For some reason I don’t know why I stayed married to him. That was a huge mistake, over time I had a hysterectomy and he was happy that typical male problems arose like E/D. He never slept with me and still doesn’t, he sleeps in a bed room down stairs.

Adrienne Myles

He must prefer men

Joy

All during my 51 year marriage I had great organisms, they would reach such a peak, it was great. My husband was diagnosed with diabetes and in the process lost the ability to have a erection. He no longer reached out for me and just kinda left me high and dry. I would satisfy myself and that worked for a while till he got really sick and my mind went to caring for him. He passed away and I eventually found a new man. We had tremendous sex, but I could never have the great organisms I once had. I… Read more »

Davidm

I am married but due to my Wifes health problems I lost the touch and intamacy, we too had great sex but now find I am left to my own pleasures, that gets a bit boring at times, and long to find a Lady of similar needs to fulfil those pleasures again.

JP

One thing I learned from a bout of endometrial cancer that lead to meeting with doctors and nurses who are part of the sexual health unit, is that older and/or post-menapausal women need to consistently MOISTURIZE the internal vaginal tissue help them stay healthy whether or not the woman is sexually active. This will make doctor examinations bearable. There are products that are specialized for this need. LUBRICATION to ease sexual intercourse is in addition to the moisturizing process.

Rocker chick

I just turned 60 but have the energy and sex drive of a 23 year old and have had for all my life except when my blood pressure went haywire and untreated for 20 years, Then i came close to dying, I was saved and now i am back to the old me that i had hoped to have left behind I want to be spayed or whatever! I have sexual desires all the time but no guy is ever interested! Vibrators and dildo’s won’t do. I want the real thing. For the last year i have tryed everything. I… Read more »

barry

I don’t have an official answer…..Some of us who are married have been dormant for a long time. Some of us guys share the same frustration….My wife does a million wonderful things…but because of some physical conditions on her side ….orthopedic type and hormonal and to be fair…on my side effects of certain medicines handicap my ability to finish…..But I’d love to meet somebody willing to try the buddy system, so to speak…I’ve heard some people call it ” two people helping each other out”…….I’m 68, but it would nice to meet someone who could understand that …I’d hate to… Read more »

Sharon

I am a 56 yr old woman who after my husband died and I had to have a hystoretomy hadn’t been with a man in 13 years. I now have been seeing someone whom I’ve known for years. I never thought I would ever get that “WANT TO FEELING” back but, I have. He is 66 years old and we have never had sex do to him not being able to get an erection. Personally, I’m not even sure if I could even get it in me if he did. LOL. I have talked to him about it but with… Read more »

I’m a older male and in about the same boat. I love sex a lot but I also love the closeness and feeling and caring for another but can’t find any older women that seems to want the same. It’s hard to find a women like yourself but maybe some day I will.
Good luck on you quest

RD

Rocker chick, surely you must be joking! How is it possible that you don’t have a line of men wanting to be with you? Where are you located? We need to meet up!

Janet Ra

I am 60 years old, have no major health issues, am active and carry about 15 extra pounds. This is just another article that makes me feel like I am from another planet. I have not been terribly sexually active, but all I have heard over and over for the last 20 years or so are these reaction articles – “Yes we older women do like/have sex!” – to stereotypes that I don’t ever actually hear articulated. Who cares what young people think about older women and sex? My message to young women would be have as much sex as… Read more »

Jim

Janet, I too feel almost betrayed by the media and constant bombardment that we must have sex constantly to be happy. Frankly, I’m sick of the free love baby boomer generation and Hollywood. Sex and the quest for sex is at the center of everything to them and they push it on the world. I’m a guy in my early 50’s, married, still have kids at home and in college. Frankly, it would not bother me if I never had sex again. Still love my wife, but wow, all the time, effort, money, just for a few minutes of physicality?… Read more »

Deb

Janet – Ditto – thanks for leaving this response! I’m 59 – and feel like you do.

I am a 58 yr old female,I’ve always been a 100lb. Petite woman,and I started at the age 50 with night sweats,the soaking my clothes,no concentration,low sex drive.about a yr ago and I started het pellet therapy,oh my I started feeling energy and able to sleep,noticed I wanted to be intimate all the time,and it helps with mood and bone pain went away.i can say I’ve did the yr of the pellets and it’s a every 3 to 4 month insert,its planted in your upper thigh,your blood work is taken to see how low your body is on hormones,it works… Read more »

Pamvbonanno

I am 58 and my spouse is 65 says I don’t keep him aroused and claims he has a erection issue,but wants no sex with me touching him,he wants oral with me only,not me touching him,why does he want to get on a site to bring other younger women to our home for sex with me knowing,and it should be ok.he thinkswe should have other partners in bed with permission only .p b.

I totally agree with most of the comments. Age is simply a number. My wife and I are 78 and 72 respectfully and enjoy an exciting sex life and unparalleled intimacy. Sex and intimacy mean different things to different people. We can enjoy intimacy on a daily basis without necessarily having sex,. Each of us require different strokes. Uncompromising trust and confidence in our partners combined with honest and open communication is key to maintaining our sexuality and intimacy as we age. Health, age, and frequently job loss contribute to our willingness and ability to nurture and engage in intimate… Read more »

Amy

My husband is 72 and I’m 69 ! Our life was never filled with sex of any kind I lived without it for about 40 years. He got bored with our sex life, I wanted it only one way he wanted to experiment! That decision I made ended all his sex interest and he said that if we can’t do different things then he didn’t want sex any more. I don’t know how he did it but just shut ourselves off. He moved himself to the midnight shift at work and slept in our basement bedroom during the day. He… Read more »

N. L.

I stumbled upon this website. I am 59, had 3 children and enjoyed my marital relations. I have problems now due to my uncontrolled diabetes and his refusal to accept my body has changed. I am not, the teen he married! I have defended my position without getting through to him about my situation. He does not read much, so he isn’t aware, most older couples suffer “internal” problems. I wish this was in Spanish, so I could share everyone’s comments, to tell him, see I’m not the ONLY woman going through this!

John

I AM 80 I am on heart meds and being treated for prostate cancer with radiation only. Sex arousal just about not there.

Linda

Interesting article. I agree with most of it but some of it I question.

Sustain the outstanding work !! Lovin’ it!

Juanita

We are 73 years old and my husband wants sex. I would like that too, but I just can’t get into bed, have sex and nothing else. I want some loving all along the way–a hug, a kiss, a pat on the butt, etc. I just don’t like for him to grab my breasts or grab my crotch. This is a turn off. He refuses to hug, kiss, touch me without sexual intent.

How can I get him to understand what I need so I can happily get in the bed with him?

Thanks.

Juanita, I’d love to answer your question in my #SexAtOurAge Q&A column. Can you please email me at sexpert@seniorplanet.org? I know many people will be interested, and I thank you in advance for letting me help you and others in the same situation.

– Joan Price

Hi Juanita, thanks for commenting. We invite you to send your question to Senior Planet’s relationship and sex columnist Joan Price. I’m sure she can help you, along with other women who are dealing with similar issues to yours. You can email her at sexpert@seniorplanet.org

jack

i lost my partner 2 years ago[brain tumor] i am still interested in intimate relationship..my problem is two fold..one..partial ED. and the other not knowing how to be social..like at a senior`s center [i am 75 years old] how do i know if another woman is interested in this type of relationship?…….are there signs?”

Hi, I wish to say the following reading about a 70 wanting or agreeing to have a sex with her husband but has no fore play and just wants to grab. I am 75 and my partner is 70. When meeting her 3 years ago, after 6 years without her spouse that had passed away, in which time they had no sexual relationship for 32 years due a medical condition, I started talking to her. In our talks she mentioned that after an operation she felt all of a sudden a high emotional hot feeling in her pelvis region. The… Read more »

68andstillawanthotsex

Are there any solutions to wanting to get laid but pain too great. I cannot use hormones. Thought I’d use dildoesntomhelp stretch me but, what can I say, after 2 children and a rather active sex life until ad recent as 5 yesrs ago, they aré too big. Lubricants don’t work as husband doesn’t like them. i love receiving but not giving oral sex (sound selfish, but it’s mental – I get physically ill.). I know I’ve thrown lots of stones in my way, but I was wondering if there are any “progressive” dildoesntomhelp that might help to stretch me… Read more »

Ray Lewis

I,m 73 fit and still very interested in sex. My wife suffers from Parkinson’s and is not interested in any sexual contact. I do masturbate but this is not satisfying. My wife has said I can seek sexual satisfaction else where do I start?

Ray, I might be able to answer your question in my #SexAtOurAge Q&A column. Can you please email me at sexpert@seniorplanet.org with more information?

It's about time

Great article, going to let my friends on the Osphena forum know about it.

Ashton Applewhite

Sharp, informative interview; thanks. I’d be interested in hearing about whether more older women are turning to alternative relationships (e.g. non-monogamous, same-sex).

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