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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22 comments
  • JP
    REPLY

    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
    REPLY

    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 can think of to get out there and and dance ect. No offers. I lost weight i exercise i fix my hair ect. i guess i am just to wild for most men, and or very independent and strong. I am a head banger but and old one. Where do old head banging women go to hook up? Looking for men only.

  • Janet Ra
    REPLY

    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 you can while you are young – you don’t have forever, and being sexually active will prolong whatever you can do. I have heard so much about how much older women have/enjoy sex that I assumed when I got there, with a little lubricant, I would too. I assumed that if I met a man that I was attracted to, my low libido would bounce back. I was shocked this year when I had a pap smear and just getting the speculum in felt like I was being stabbed with a knife. I don’t even enjoy masturbating without penetration much, everything is dry and uncomfortable. I feel lied to. I feel like I am being shamed for not being sexually up to par and told I am a freak. I don’t believe I am a tiny statistical outlier. And, having just started to realize that things will need more than a tube of lube to be functional again, I have only begun to think about hormone replacement. BE HONEST – How many of these sexually active women are taking hormone replacement? What are the real options? How much do they cost? Are they covered by insurance? I want to know if ANY of these older sexually active women are doing it simply on exercise, eating right, and proper attitude. I wager you will find very, very few. If I am correct in this, this kind of article is downright misleading.

    • Jim
      REPLY

      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? I’ve been through testosterone replacement therapy. Wreacked havoc on me and made me very sick. Tried Viagra so at least she could get something, but it gave me such a headache I thought my head would explode, and then it caused blurry vision that was severe enough I went to the eye doctor. He said no more Viagra, this might be permanent.

      As I get older I find I have trouble watching TV, movies, etc. it’s all sex. Even the cartoon movies have hidden sex jokes and situations. Why? It’s not needed. I don’t want it and don’t need it. I prefer the old movies on TCM over the crap produced today. Only thing I can do is not support them by not buying or renting, which is what I do.

      At some age the sex stops. It’s at different ages for everybody, but the body does not last forever.

      I’m not unhappy. I love my life and family. I am active in the community. I go to church. I don’t sit at home doing nothing. Since turning off the TV and movies and actually living life without all the society and media crap I find myself a lot happier.

    • Pam bonanno
      REPLY

      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 and I finished the yr and thought I’m ok without it,plus it cost me 1,700 a yr. well after not having hormone therapy I’m miserable,my chin area is broke out,it’s all back the old symptoms,although no sweats at all.soo I’m looking to go back on hot replacement,I loved the results,be sure to check out who you go to.my husband was given to much pellets and had to much estrogen,he’s 66 and it caused him to not want sex and made him like a crouch old woman,so make sure the dr.you choose has a degree in hormonal ureplacement therapy,or if you choose creams there’s a lot more test involved.they have payment arrangement to and it’s worth every cent,it also slows aging process down.you take care of your outer body why not the inner that makes you feel good and why not have sex everyday,cause after about 3 to 4 weeks your love life will be wonderful.i know I’m almost 59 and in a week I’ll be back to the way I think any woman would like to feel and enjoy life,it’s worth it,no more tiredness and headaches are gone,better memory for me,hope my words of this experience of hurt pellet therapy will be of some encouragement for those who want quality of life.enjoye your life as well as you deserve the best of life.

  • Pamvbonanno
    REPLY

    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.

  • Amy
    REPLY

    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 worked all holidays and all family get together’s. He never cheated with any other women or men. In the last 20 years or so I haven;t seen him or talked to him. He’s been retired and keeps to himself, he enjoys working on cars and target shoots with his friends. We don’ t associate with each, we just do our own thing.

  • N. L.
    REPLY

    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
    REPLY

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

  • Juanita
    REPLY

    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.

    • Joan Price
      REPLY

      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

    • jack
      REPLY

      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?”

    • Mike Fourie
      REPLY

      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 Dr informed her not to worry she just had a orgasm. This was het first in 42 years.
      Her husband passed away 6 years previous to me meeting her.
      Now to answer the lady about wanting to be sexual involved but no grabbing of any sort.
      I have spoken to my partner many times and told her of many turn ons and found her listening. Then we went one step further to see if light toughing of her breast and teasing of her nipple brought about excitement to her. This is a test as many females have not the slightest sexual arousement in touching her breasts. No grabbing. If arousement should be felt one could start touching her body and carry on until she nature of time allows one to play into the vaginal area and feel free and comfortable in becoming one.
      I feel this lady mentioned above should spent time in showing what excites her and become the teacher and the pupil will follow. I can now say that my partner has entered a new life. We enjoy our sexual relationship that is NOT TIME BASED. it may start when laying in bed in the morning and just holding and cuddling. Getting up and going out and when driving touching each other and NOW she enjoys the light caressing of her breasts. The teasing of each other and the unexpected places when arroused having part of a sexual act. Time and place is now no dream but a fact. We enjoy sex more than once per day on rare occasions but regular sex, 4/5 times per week a fact. My partner has in the last time experienced more than one orgasm in our sexual encounter and admits that without penetration it is deep and strong but …….on occasions my partner has had a start of an orgasm without penetration but once penetration she has reached the top has had 2/3 orgasms with the last just not wanting to end.
      So my advice to this 70 year old is to become a teacher or maybe there is someone out there which you have still to find.

  • 68andstillawanthotsex
    REPLY

    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 slowly.
    I know this is rambling, but I’d really LO e to,have some sort of intercourse. My flame has not died.
    Each time we try, we fail and end in frustration. Anyone out there find a solution to this? I’m sure I’m not alone.

  • Ashton Applewhite
    REPLY

    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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