August 7, 2011

USA: ‘Senior sexpert’ shatters a sexual taboo

SANTA ROSA, California / ThePressDemocrat / Living / August 6, 2011

Sebastopol author finds niche in talking about sex beyond 50

By Susan Swartz - For The Press Democrat

Joan Price’s new book, “Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud About Senior Sex,” follows “Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk About Sex After Sixty,” which broke the “don’t ask, don’t tell” taboo of older-life sexuality.

Both published by Berkeley’s Seal Press, the books have bestowed a new label on the former high school English teacher and fitness instructor, that of “senior sexpert.” We caught up with Price, 68, at her Sebastopol home in between book tours.

Erica Jong wrote in the New York Times that sex between older people is the new unmentionable, “the thing that makes our kids yell, ‘Ewww, gross!’” Why gross?

Part of my original mission, why I wrote the first book, was to fight the “ick” factor and normalize the idea of ageless sexuality. To show that older bodies are still sexual and sensual. Part of the negative response to older sex comes from the media, which generally see older people as invisible, and if it portrays us at all we’re subservient to younger people who drive the story. The media also treats sex as something only the young enjoy.

Joan Price’s new book is aimed at readers in their 50s and older. Crista Jeremiason/PD

Do you see older people anywhere in the media portrayed as sexual beings?

There are notable exceptions. The older couple in the TV show “Parenthood,” is one. Meryl Streep in the movie with Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin (“It’s Complicated”), which showed older people being sexually desirable, was realistic in a Hollywood-y way. Of course, Meryl’s gorgeous and who wouldn’t want her?

When you talk about senior sex, what age group are you addressing?

In my first book, I talked about sex after 60, but I heard from retailers that people in their 50s, especially the post-menopausal years, wanted the same information. The people in this book range in age from 49 to 86.

What makes you a “senior sexpert?”

I didn’t come up with that title. Others started calling me that. But I have spent six years researching the field and found a lot of information that is not common knowledge. It’s more than a writing job for me. It’s a calling.

What is the difference in your first and second books?

My first book was more personal, about my life with Robert (the late artist Robert Rice), and how we celebrated what we had romantically, sexually, professionally, all of it. When I met Robert, I was 57 and he was 64. I had young people say they were buying my book for their parents and grandparents and that they were surprised by the joyfulness in it.

My second book came out of that first book because people wrote to me about not having good sex. The second book addresses those issues and problems. I have 135 reader stories in the book. And 45 sex experts, doctors and health professionals.

What are the most common questions and concerns you hear from the audience at your book readings and talks?

My body has changed and my sexual responses have changed. I don’t know how to talk to my partner. Is sex over? For women, the top concerns are lack of desire, vaginal pain, unreliable orgasms. For men, erectile difficulty is the main one.

You say that sex is good for our health. In what ways?

It helps protect against heart attack and stroke, as does all exercise. It reduces stress and increases self-esteem. It bolsters the immune system. It can alleviate chronic pain, including migraines. It helps us get to sleep. Those are some of the benefits Dr. Barb Depree mentions in the book.

So is this a big trend? Are all older people embracing their sexuality?

No. I get negative comments, people telling me, “Quit trying to push sex on us.” I don’t advocate anything. A couple may decide to not have sex, and that’s fine as long as both partners go along with it. On the other hand, I’ve met 75-year-old swingers.

Does all the advertising for Viagra and such products, showing silver-haired couples sitting in hot tubs watching the sunset, advance the cause of older sexuality?

At least they do let people know that sex goes on. However, while Viagra and other medications can be a solution to having erections, they are not a solution to relationship problems or to the lack of desire. The pills are not a panacea and can be injurious depending on various health conditions. For example, they can cause a bad reaction if mixed with anti-depressant medications.

Who are some of the experts you’ve interviewed?

One of my favorites is sex educator Peggy Brick, who has a Ph.D. and leads sex ed courses for seniors. I discovered a growing movement in sex educators and therapists. There are specialists in sex and cancer, in disabilities and sex. You can find a certified sex therapist at the website (American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists).

Dr. Dean Edell, who wrote a blurb for your book, said “as far as sex in the senior years ... the best is yet to come.” Some of the people in your book claim that their sex lives are more satisfying today than when they were young. Why is that?

As we get older, men and women become more equally matched. We both need a longer arousal time and more interaction. And that’s good. It’s something a lot of women have always been wishing for.

Price will talk about her book August 16 at the Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco.
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Susan Swartz is a freelance writer and author based in Sonoma County. 

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