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Sex doesn't stop for seniors - Intimacy hinges on attitude

We're talking about love – and sex – after 60. After 70. After 80.

"The truth is that if you are healthy and your partner is healthy, and both of you are interested, there is nothing per se about aging that precludes you from lovemaking," Dr. Robert Butler says. He's a Pulitzer Prize winner, president of the International Longevity Center-USA in New York City and co-author, with psychotherapist and gerontologist Myrna I. Lewis, of  "The New Love and Sex After 60" (Ballantine, 2002).

The giggles, the blushes, the embarrassing mental image of Grandpa and Grandma getting it on come from what Butler calls "sexual small-mindness" – an attitude that only young people are beautiful and only beautiful people have sex.

The attitude "has given rise to a prejudice we have called ageism, which is a systematic discrimination against people because they are old, just as racism and sexism discriminate for reasons of skin color and gender," Butler says.

Boomers will challenge that attitude as they edge into what researchers call "early old age" (65-74), he says. If declining sexual functions are really tied to old age, then boomers – who told AARP pollsters that old age begins at 79 – are in for years of lusty living.

So why do married men "of a certain age" joke about how they never get any? One answer could be fixable physical problems, as Butler and Lewis point out in an extensive chapter on sexual problems of older women. Another could be attitude. Even when physical and mental health is excellent, some people exhibit an "old-person act," the authors say, deciding their sexual ability is gone.

"To anticipate failure is to cause it to happen," they write.

Meanwhile, a few "early old age" and "later old age" folks are finding sex and love flourish after 60, an attitude that comes as no surprise to Butler. What is different is the way these older people are willing to talk about their love lives.

When he and Lewis first wrote "Love and Sex After 60" in 1976, Barbara Walters refused to interview them on the "Today" program, demurring from discussing material "that might not be appropriate for younger viewers." In Florida, newspapers refused to advertise the book.

"For some people, this is still a difficult topic to discuss," Butler says. "But when I think of the life of this book, the fact that it even survived, has been updated several times, shows how we are developing a different attitude."

More than 30 percent of the new edition is revised, he says, reflecting the latest in medical research, particularly on Viagra and concerns about sexually transmitted diseases.

Staying "in touch"

Butler and Lewis continue to advocate that couples not lose physical contact, even if either or both no longer want sexual activity.

"Closeness, intimacy and touch is the second language of sex," Butler says. "The first is primitive and biological and explosive. With maturity, there should be something more respective, more mutual, more concerned and understanding of the other person's needs and desires."

The second language of sex speaks strongly after 60, he says. For couples with a wonderful relationship and continuing sexual desire, "Viagra will give them something different than older couples have ever had before," Butler says.

In terms of sexual activity, men are becoming much more understanding of the needs of women, Lewis says.

The authors caution that just being older doesn't mean couples shouldn't practice safe sex.

Nor does being alone mean an end to love and sex, they say.

There are new chapters on finding relationships, learning new patterns of lovemaking, dating and remarriage.

"We are in the midst of a longevity revolution," Butler says. "And as you know, the future belongs to those who prepare for it."

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