Joan Price is wise, non-judgmental, warm, funny and seriously well informed about matters sexually senior. Those qualities and more inform her book, “Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud About Senior Sex.”
At the core of the book, Price’s second about senior sex (her previous one was “Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex After Sixty”), are the voices of hundreds of the author’s correspondents – distressed, curious, celebratory. Paired with these voices are the words of experts who offer advice, solace, perspective and, in some cases, warnings. Price weaves this patchwork of lives and views with her persistent belief that a life lived fully is a life lived sensually – at our age and beyond.
Price spoke to Senior Planet by phone from her home in California.
If the fires are flagging, why not just let the urge to merge fade away?
If you’re not in a relationship, there are so many reasons to keep the sexual urge alive. One is, it makes you feel good emotionally and physically. It’s good for the heart and just about every part of the body. It increases blood flow, which we need for the heart particularly, and also for the brain and muscles. Plus, if you meet someone and want a relationship, if you haven’t kept that alive, it won’t work. If we don’t use it we lose it.
By letting it fade away, you’ll be losing out on all that intimacy. Sex is for pleasure and joy, as well as for health.
Especially in this very image heavy culture, how can a man or woman who is dating get comfortable with the idea of someone else seeing and touching this body that can feel so foreign and unattractive?
We have to realize that this youth-oriented society doesn’t acknowledge us as sexual beings, and we have to take a stand. This body – it may be wrinkled, but I’m not going to buy into the idea that only a young body is sexy. Look at your body from your partner’s point of view. He’s not going to be thinking, “Wow, she looked better with her clothes on.” He’s thinking, “Wow, did I get lucky!”
It’s important, also, to do things that enhance your own physicality – it helps you look better and feel better. And if you’re physically active, you’ll like your body better. You don’t have to compete or run a marathon; you can totally enjoy a physical activity that will help you get in shape. The more you don’t exercise, the more sluggish you get.
What have you found to be the most common barrier to satisfying intimacy between older couples?
Lack of communication. As we age, our bodies do not respond in the same ways they used to. We need to go on a journey to discover what the new ways are. That means communicating and saying, I know I used to love this, but I’m responding differently now – just suggesting ways to partner in this journey to discover what the two of you will like. Men need more touch too, more warm-up, and often we women don’t know how to do that, because we never had to. We need to understand that arousal for older men is not measured by the penis and for an older woman is not measured by lubrication. It’s not a defect, it’s change.
Some of us were raised in a time when pleasurable sex was considered wrong. How can someone in their 60s, 70s or 80s resolve this?
My sex education was all about the nuts and bolts, not about how it feels. How do we change our thinking? By reading how other people were shaped by an upbringing that saw sex in this way, we can understand, I’m a fully realized human being and I can take charge of this, too. It’s about self-empowerment. We’ve embraced careers that no one in our families thought we could; we think for ourselves; we’ve thought things out and changed our minds. Same thing in the case of sex. Everything is at stake: our relationships, our physical and emotional wellbeing. It’s just about putting the effort into empowering ourselves and educating ourselves.
Everything takes longer. How can we make that longer journey seem fresh and joyful, and not like work?
We get less goal-oriented. Instead of caring about reaching that orgasm, we care about how good it feels along the way. We can take hours with sex. My husband and I would plan whole afternoons, we would make love dates. We would start with something physical but not sexual that would let us be together and bond – take a walk together, dance. Then we would take a long long time enjoying arousing each other. Yes, we’d go through “That hurts my back,” “no that hurts my knees.” Creativity, education and a good sense of humor are important.
Have you noticed any persistent differences in how senior men and women go about getting their sexual needs met?
At this time in our lives we are the most well matched. Men used to be in a hurry to get finished and women were always saying, slow down. Now it’s really different, and it’s delightful. We both want a lots of touching and a lot of kissing. We have to acknowledge that. Men are often still in the mindset of, I ought to do it this way. So they need to learn what it means to be a fully realized sexual being in this new age. This is harder for men than for women to talk about. Men are not used to talking about their feelings.
How can a woman help? If she shows how much she appreciates the things he does and leads him to understand how to arouse her; if she communicates what really works, things that are not a challenge to his idea of what sex ought to be.
How did you become this person who can write so candidly and generously about the varieties and vagaries of sex, senior or otherwise?
I started writing about senior sex after I fell in love at age 57 with Robert, who was 64. I couldn’t find any book that acknowledged how joyful and spicy it was, while still being different. Writing about sex was hard. I had never talked about these intimate things, not even to my girlfriends. But I ran into the ick factor about senior sex and I was on a mission to break that down. A younger journalist once went “ick” when I talked to him about senior sex and I just said, “At what age do you plan to retire your genitals?” If everyone could take a stand in the face of this attitude about older people and say, Accept me as a full human being, and that means I’m sexual, maybe we could change it.
What’s been the biggest surprise for you in your life with digital technology? The continuing surprise for me is how much easier and flexible my life is thanks to tech innovations. I don’t have to worry about getting lost any more when I wander through an unfamiliar city. I just look at the Google maps app on my iPhone. I don’t have to worry about missing important calls or email when I travel, because that’s all on my phone, too. I don’t have to decide which book to take with me when I’ll have waiting time, because I’m carrying a dozen books on my iPad. I can take a weekend away and still work on the book I’m writing because it’s all on my laptop—which gets lighter with each new purchase! I love tech!