On Sex & Relationships: Expert Advice for Seniors

Published In Blog

You might assume that at the ripening age of “pushing 79,” sex therapist/sex columnist/board-certified sexologist Isadora Alman might be tiring of the topic that’s brought her national notoriety. But it turns out she’s still warming up to it — and happy to share the insights gained through decades of counseling and as longtime author of a sex column, “Ask Isadora,” published in weekly newspapers around the country.

Alman also maintains a robust online “Sexuality Forum” and has written several books on the topic, including her latest, What People Keep Asking Me About Sex and Relationships.

These days, her focus is often fixed on seniors and sexuality, which remains a touchy topic for many.

Her advice is widely hailed as witty, practical, and knowledgeable — and unfailingly helpful.

A recent example:

Q: Whenever I suggest something even a little bit sexy like getting massages or going to a hot tub place my husband’s response is something like “We’re too old for that stuff!” Is there some age when a person is too old to try something new and maybe even fun?

A: Of course not.  New experiences are exactly what keeps a person young. My response to your husband might be “What do you mean WE are too old, Grandpa?”

What he’s telling you when he says this is that he is feeling old, so a good medical checkup and some reading on how the body and the mind age might be in order. It wouldn’t hurt to offer him some reassurances that you still find him desirable as a playmate and that you are not pressuring him to perform, only to come out and play.

But lately, the sexuality maven has signaled a desire to ramp back a bit on her writings and appearances — and save her energy for counseling private clients, mostly about relationship issues. At a recent event billed as “what may be Alman’s last public speaking event” at the Institute of Aging in San Francisco, she engaged with those attending in the Q & A format that is the temple of her familiar.

Confronting Senior Sexuality Issues

Alman first explained that many older women struggle with changes or losses to their libido after menopause that make them less interested in sex — a premise quickly acknowledged by an audience member who chimed in to say: “I’m 75. What would I do with a libido?”

And Alman adds that most women of a certain age “have never been assertive,” so they have a harder time meeting new people if they’re in the mode of finding a partner.

Older men, she says, generally have a more pragmatic problem: being unable to have the “instant erection” they recall from younger days, or to maintain an erection once they have one.

Both genders complain about how body issues relate to sexuality as they age. “Older people don’t look as sexy as they used to,” Alman says. “Things tend to sag — or get to be fatter and flabbier.”

Redefining Intimacy

But she says the biggest complaint she gets from both older men and women is about being lonely, emphasizing that many older people crave intimacy and connection — “someone to share their thoughts with” — more than sex.

For those who are coupled, Alman says there’s a simple way to bring intimacy into a relationship: “Talk about your feelings, who you are,” she says. “Ask questions that reveal more intimate information, such as: ‘What hurts?’ rather than ‘How are you?’ Being intimate doesn’t always involve sexual parts; sometimes it’s about sharing thoughts or memories.”

Older people who are looking for connections in a companion or a partner may face even more challenges — among them, whether sex will or will not be part of the expectation. “This is one positive thing about connecting up with people through online sites,” Alman says. “You can just put it out there.”

But she acknowledges that online dating sites aren’t everyone’s bag of tea, offering tips on how to meet people “outside of online.”

Finding Intimate Friends

Often, consistency is key. “Be in the same place over and over,” Alman says. “People will see you there and learn something about you in time, and connections will be made.”

And it’s usually best and often easiest to follow your own talents and interests: If you’re a foodie, try a themed group dinner that’s becoming common, especially in many urban areas. If you’re a good dancer, go to a dance class or meet-up. “Go someplace where you shine,” she says.

But she also recalls a client she counseled a while back who was even stumped about finding an interest to pursue. He was a profoundly lonely man who craved some female company. “The men who are the most lonely and awkward are the ones who have PhDs,” she claims. And this particular client was also profoundly picky, didn’t want to travel far, and claimed he could pursue his quest for companionship the only time he claimed to be free: on Thursday nights. When the local paper showed the only evening class that night was in sewing, he reluctantly enrolled — and was predictably the only male student.

“He was quickly besieged with women asking him out on dates,” Alman says. “Just besieged.”

Leave a Reply