You probably remember the scene. Alvy Singer, played by Woody Allen, is obsessing about the fact that his new girlfriend, Annie Hall (Diane Keaton), doesn't like to have sex without smoking a joint first. So he goes for a walk and interrogates strangers about their sex lives, including a nebbishy-looking old man.
Alvy: With your wife in bed, does she need some kind of artificial stimulation, like, like marijuana?
Old man: We use a large vibrating egg.
It's a funny line, in no small part because it plays off a stereotype as old as Oedipus: that old people having sex is weird. Young people have a hard-time imagining their elders "doing it" so they make jokes about it. Like Oscar Wilde's famous quip: "Young men want to be faithful, and are not; old men want to be faithless, and cannot."
Older men are portrayed as impotent and dysfunctional, while older women are perceived as asexual and invisible. As actress Julie Harris puts it, "After the age of 50, we become women of glass. Men look right through us."
But the reality is that many men and women have the best sex of their lives after 50. Therapist Gina Ogden, Ph.D., author of The Return of Desire, conducted a study of 3,810 men and women, age 18-86, several years ago and discovered that older lovers are more likely to integrate sexual and spiritual experience, which leads to richer and more fulfilling love-making. When asked "Have you ever experienced God in a moment of sexual ecstasy?" 58% of the respondents 60 and older answered "yes," compared with only 23% of those 30 and younger.
More after the jump...
Integrating sexual and spiritual experience, the study concluded, also has a positive impact on the emotional and physical health, particularly in areas such as feeling acceptance and love and oneness with one's partner and experiencing intense inner vitality, energy, and security. "Sex is the principal means to directly experiencing our authentic life," Ogden told Yoga Journal. "Our sexuality is much more complex than the Masters and Johnson model of arousal, orgasm, and rolling over and going to sleep." According to Ogden, brain research shows that orgasm and sometimes even vaginal stimulation light up the whole brain, including the parts typically associated with spiritual ecstasy. In other words, "we're all hard-wired for multi-dimensional sex."
In her essay, "Why I'd Rather Sleep with a Man over 50" in American Sexuality magazine, Katherine Anne Forsythe makes the case that older men have "a quiet confidence and patience" that allows them to enjoy the entire sexual experience, not just their own pleasure. She writes: "The mellowness of having been 'around the block' with age-and, most likely, a high number of partners-permits [them] to let go of having to rush, and prove, and perform. Without those pressures, older men (and women) can see themselves as equal partners in a titillating, creative escapade."
As our bodies slow down and change with age, some men freak out and others learn to accept the reality and respond more creatively. Creativity leads to experimenting with alternatives to an intercourse-centric approach to sex, which in turn reduces performance anxiety. (I don't mean to be glib here. For some men erectile dysfunction is a serious issue and requires medical treatment. For more on this subject, go here.)
"New thinking invites slow touch, spending time to caress and tease. It means talking to your partner," writes Forsythe, a sexuality educator. "Foreplay becomes foretalk. It means what really feels good to both of you. It means thinking about alternatives to the old kiss-grope-intercourse-orgasm routine. It means discovering your partner's real needs, and yours. It means true pleasuring."
When we were shooting 5 Weeks to a New Life, several of the men in the group said that they were much more interested in the emotional aspects of sex now than they were earlier. At one point, John Ford, a single man in his early 50s, confessed, "As opposed to pure sex, I have more of a drive toward more sexual intimacy than I did when I was younger. To me that's more enjoyable because it's really about intimacy as opposed to the animalistic act. Not that the animalistic act is bad."
Men like John who embrace a more expansive view of lovemaking in later life often find a whole new world of sexual experience opening up to them. They also discover that their partner's sexual needs are different from what they originally assumed. While most older women admit being turned on by rigid erections, says Forsythe, what's more important to them is being pleased, and that usually means talking to their male partners about the experience and enjoying each other's bodies completely. Men are often surprised to learn, she adds, that for most women intercourse is "not the primary drive but simply one of several delicious menu options."
Large vibrating eggs, anyone?
Tell us what you think: Does sex get better as you age or is that just spiritual mumbo-jumbo?