Swinging seniors

Swinging seniors

Sex: It’s not just for the young and middle-aged

By Patti Carmalt-Vener 03/21/2013

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Dear Patti,
I’m 75 and my husband, Gene, is 80. Gene’s health has been a concern lately, and when I had a serious fall several months ago, our son and his wife suggested we move in with them. I thought Gene would oppose the idea, since he’s very independent, but he surprised me by saying “yes,” and this new arrangement has worked smoothly so far.
Bobby and Emily’s house is large enough for our respective privacy, and our eldest grandson, whom I’ve always adored, lives close enough to bring our darling great granddaughter for regular visits. It’s a great joy for Gene and me, and I love watching Bobby in his role of loving grandfather. 
My question is a delicate one. I think of Emily as my daughter and one day laughingly told her that sometimes Gene’s sexual appetite is too much for me. She looked stunned, I became embarrassed and she said she’d assumed we’d stopped having sexual relations a long time ago. I changed the subject. Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything, but I’ve always been able to talk as freely to Emily as I would a close girlfriend. A few days later, Bobby broached the subject with Gene and said that since both of us have compromised health, he wasn’t sure it was safe for us to be having frequent sex. Gene understands Bobby was just being protective, but he felt lectured and didn’t like our privacy invaded. Thank goodness my husband understands that women talk between themselves and wasn’t bothered by my sharing.
After being married for so long, is it that rare to be sexual two or three times a week? Sometimes I’m as interested as my husband and sometimes I’m not, but I love the closeness. My two best friends’ husbands are no longer alive and they consider me very lucky.  
— Linda 

Dear Linda,
First, I’m very glad to hear that the integration of your two households is going well and that it’s probably in part due to all of you being thoughtful and understanding of each other. It’s not always an easy task, as many issues can easily come up.
As a senior parent’s physical and sometimes cognitive abilities diminish, there can be a role reversal in which the parental role becomes more the function of the adult children. I always caution adult children about this transition; if the change in dynamics becomes too severe, whereby the adult offspring become too dominant and invasive, it can exacerbate depression, anxiety and discontent in seniors. If you find this starts to happen, have a talk and set up clear boundaries. Self-esteem in seniors is linked to the achievement of integrity and dignity in old age and, as such, adult children must respect the boundaries that define their mothers’ and fathers’ individualism. 
This also extends to trust and confidentiality. Since you didn’t clarify to Emily that this subject was confidential, I recognize she probably talked to Bobby out of concern. Maybe you could explain to her that you’d prefer private conversations such as this to remain between the two of you.
It’s admirable that you and Gene have kept such closeness and intimacy after all these years together. It might be a good idea, however, to make sure your respective doctors are aware of your situation. Common myths concerning sexuality in old age include that seniors don’t have active sex lives, that seniors with chronic illness or physical disabilities should stop sexual activity, and that sexual pleasure automatically and intensely decreases with aging. It’s claimed by many experts that, in general, physical illness is not a reason to give up sex. Many seniors, in fact, can experience and still enjoy sexual functioning and desire later in life. Unfortunately, our culture sometimes perpetuates negative connotations about sexuality in old age, a stereotype that often leaves seniors feeling marginalized and intimidated. Common problems that frequently lessen sexuality in the elderly include the use of antidepressant drugs, arthritis and joint pain, lack of privacy, urinary incontinence, estrogen deficiency, diabetes and alcohol effects. 
Sexuality is not just the purview of the young to middle-aged. Older people can and do have the ability and the capacity to express love and sexual passion.

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her Web site, patticarmalt-vener.com.

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