Say "orgasm" as loud as you can. That was the command ordered by Dr. Ruth Westheimer to an audience of more than 80 seniors who gathered to hear the famous sex therapist speak on Wednesday at NewBridge on the Charles, an independent living community in Dedham. The audience of mostly women, she tells me, complied.
The questions she gets asked by the AARP crowd haven't changed much through the years -- lack of desire, boredom, the challenge of finding a new partner -- but the vocabulary is different. "People are talking more openly. And I do believe in being explicit and encourage them to be."
Hence the Big O, um, orgasm speak.
"She talked about sex, but I thought in a very compassionate way -- not just the physical act but about warmth and embracing," says Lillian Shavell, an 80-something resident of Hebrew Senior Life's Orchard Cove Independent Living Community in Canton who attended the lecture. "These days what she has to say isn't so shocking."
Dr. Ruth admits to me that seniors find it easier to talk to her about sex issues given that, at 82, she's clearly in their camp. "When I started my radio and TV show, I was already 50," she explains. "I wasn't sitting there with décolleté and a short skirt. I do represent a bit the older generation that shows that you can change but don't have to be embarrassed about who you are sexually."
So what does she recommend for staying sexy through middle age and beyond?
1. Don't give up on sex, ever. "I think anyone who says he or she isn't interested in sex has other issues," Dr. Ruth tells me. "Maybe they're sad, lonely, depressed, worried about money" and that's distracting them from seeking out sexual enjoyment. And if you're unattached, she adds, you still have yourself as a partner. In her book Sex After 50, Dr. Ruth goes into all the details on masturbation including tips on using vibrators.
2. Expect sex to change with age. Even with drugs like Viagra, older men shouldn't expect to have the kind of erections they had in their 20s, Dr. Ruth says, and they may have to wait an extended period of time for another erection after ejaculation. "Sometimes two days," she says. Women beyond menopause should expect to use some sort of lubricant with sex, since the depletion of sex hormones like estrogen usually causes vaginal dryness and potentially uncomfortable intercourse.
3. Put more emphasis on foreplay. "Older people need to be caressed and touched more to get in the mood," Dr. Ruth says. And romantic gestures like flowers or remembering an anniversary are part of that foreplay. "If a man pops a Viagra and then tells his wife to hop into bed after forgetting her birthday or Valentine's Day," she adds, "she'll tell him what he can do with that erection!"
4. Think sex after breakfast. The hormone of desire, testosterone, tends to be higher in the morning, which is why men often wake up in the mood. "Get up in the morning, have a light breakfast, and then go back to bed," recommends Dr. Ruth. "Don't always wait until night time."
5. Don't focus on the aging body. "Women tend to get caught up with sagging breasts," says Dr. Ruth, when they should be focusing on how sexual they feel.
6. Don't ignore the risk of sexually transmitted diseases. Seniors do get STDs; in fact some 15 percent of new HIV infections occur in those over 50, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And nearly 60 percent of unmarried women ages 58 to 93 reported that they didn't use a condom the last time they had sex, a University of Chicago survey found. "No matter your age, if you start a new relationship, you and your partner should be tested to make sure neither of you are infected with any sexually transmitted disease," Dr. Ruth advises.
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