I have often said I think it’s important for us to talk about sex more, make it a more normal topic of general conversation instead of hiding talk of it behind closed doors and making people ashamed to discuss it. I feel the same way about getting older. I will be 50 this summer and lots of things are already different for me in my body and life than when I was, say, 30. If we don’t talk about these things, how do we know what is really normal? How do we recognize things that are not? Also, talking about both sex AND aging could help identify outdated ideas and notions about them both and save us all a bit of trouble!
Last week I went to the urologist (aging thing; women often develop urinary incontinence as they get older: sadly pretty common and very normal) and I had a woman doctor. She was funny and easy to talk to and as she got started, she had a “standard spiel” she gives “all her ladies.” The monologue included things like wipe front to back, pee before and after you have sex, drink at least 3 liters of water a day, and if you get dry “down there” (Yes she said “down there” instead of using the proper term- Vulva, Vaginal dryness, VULVA) I always recommend my ladies to rub some coconut oil in there. You could even use it as lube during sex if you want.”
As soon as she said that, I piped in, “Except if one is using latex condoms because any kind of oil-based lubricant can break down the material and the condom will be more likely to break or not work properly.” I swear she stopped dead in her tracks, sort of stared at me glassy-eyed, and then continued on. She hardly acknowledged what I said. I can only hope she thought about it later, looked it up, and will include it in her spiel from now on.
Later that week I was with my BFF and I was telling her about this experience. We sat there for a while wondering why it seemed so shocking to the Dr. She is only about 7 years older than me. She is a medical professional, yet she did not seem to know about oil and condoms. (See comment above about how we should be talking about sex more!) The theory we settled on is that she doesn’t think women who are experiencing vaginal dryness potentially due to menopause are having sex, let alone sex that would require a barrier of some sort.
What world is she living in? Have you seen the 50+-year-old women out here? 50 is the new 30 and I am down with that. I personally love a great one-night stand with delicious stranger sex! (condoms) I also have multiple partners so we all use condoms to protect one another and each other’s others. My BFF is a few years older than me and she is dating and using condoms during sex. We’re out there in the wild, having condom sex and we are 50+.
I don’t even know if the barrier/condom is the point where the train comes off the track, I think it’s the idea that older women are having sex at all. If they cannot imagine menopausal women having sex, then they certainly aren’t going to worry about if they’re doing it with condoms. The doctor had even mentioned that sex is “on the shelf” for her now since she is single and 57. So she herself is a woman in that age group who thinks it’s all over for us poor old ladies.
In the sex blogging community, I cannot tell you how many of the women are in their late 40s and older. It was one of the things I loved most when I started writing about sex and relationships. My Twitter feed is full of “older” women loving sex, talking about it, showing off their bodies (of all shapes and sizes), and generally being very sexual humans. If they weren’t already knowledgeable about lube, condoms, and so many other important details about having sex in the year 2022, and their doctor told them the ‘coconut oil trick’ but failed to mention the risks… you can imagine what potential there would be for risky behavior and they would not even know they were engaging in it.
And what about all the stories you read about STIs in nursing home communities. Who do you think is having sex which causes the spread of STIs there? It’s not an outbreak among the nurses, aides, and staff. It’s outbreaks of the people in the community living there.
A study performed by Berkeley University of California Wellness uncovered “significant increases in STIs” among adults 65 and over, between 2010 and 2014: Chlamydia infections increased by 52% Syphilis infections rose by 65% Gonorrhea cases increased by more than 90%
There are some reasons for this. In my research, I found it was partly because our immune systems break down over time which makes us more susceptible to infections. The other part is the embarrassment older people feel about talking about sex with medical professionals. (Remember my comment way up at the beginning of this post about normalizing talking about sex? My grandmother would be tossing in her grave if she knew I write about sex! My mother doesn’t even know! Though she MAY suspect.) Another factor I read about more than once is that doctors do not think to ask seniors about their sexual activity or discuss sexual health. Do they think our bodies simply stop working in a sexual way at a certain age? Do they think desire and arousal go away just because our bodies have changed and some of these things may be more difficult now?
I’m going to state the obvious. Of course, things change as we get older, from how our bodies work to how our brains view sex, relationships, etc. If they didn’t the doctor wouldn’t have told me about the coconut oil for vaginal dryness in the first place. I am not lamenting how our bodies change. I do think the medical community is aware of that. I just think they are not doing a good job of changing their views of the sex lives of the people they are discussing these things with. They are clinging to outdated notions.
Let’s face it, when my mother was growing up, it was assumed that if you were over 50, you were married to your lifelong monogamous partner. If you were still having sex at all, you definitely wouldn’t need condoms. But that is simply no longer the case. Divorce is common and more women are choosing to never be married again. Choosing to live a single life their own mothers would never have imagined could be possible and that includes having sex long into our “old age.”
Dating apps have age ranges well up into the “Golden Years” and there are even dating apps specifically for the AARP set. Modern medical advances have changed not only how we look as older people, but how healthy we are. Digital technology ensures we have access to so many more options to date, meet, and/or have sex with others. I mean my mom didn’t have access to online dating profiles after she and my dad broke up in the early 80s! The religious morals so many of us were raised with are loosening, being sexually active and not married is more generally accepted than ever before.
I don’t like basing our sexual availability or options on a cultural standard for beauty. But if you see the difference in how a 50-year-old person looks today vs. for example when my mother was growing up the difference can be striking. Our bodies were different, a generation or two ago we looked like and probably were grandparents a few times over at 50. If we can make that significant of a change to look younger at the same ages and we’re doing things our parents and grandparents never did at our age, then why can’t we also see older women as sexual beings. Out here having all the sex??
Even when I was doing a little research on the whole coconut oil for lube so I could write this post and be sure of my facts, I found confirmation of our theory. Doctors do not think of menopausal women as having unprotected sex, probably not much sex at all in fact. Above I linked an article from the magazine SELF about coconut oil as lube. This is an excerpt.
“I’m a big fan of coconut oil as a lubricant for women,” ob/gyn Sherry Ross, M.D., tells SELF. “I probably recommend it more in menopausal women because it has staying power in the vagina, which is good for dryness,” she explains. But she also suggests some of her younger patients try it out as long as they’re aware of its potential downsides.
“But she also suggests some of her younger patients try it out as long as they’re aware of its potential downsides”! Still think our theory isn’t right on the nose? Why didn’t they say something like… “All women … But they should be aware of its potential downsides.”? The downsides they mention aren’t even only about latex degrading, they include the potential to harbor bacteria and cause infections. Why doesn’t a menopausal woman need to know about that? She is just as at risk for infections due to coconut oil as a young woman. Yet the article is clear- she tells only some of her younger patients but when she does she warns THEM of the downsides. [Insert Big Face Palm Here]
If you’re expecting a big finish, a post with a solution to the problem, sadly this is not that kind of post, nor that kind of blog even. I just found this whole thing to be extremely frustrating and I thought it worthy of being aired out here. Plus I am doing the April A-Z blogging challenge and I needed a title that starts with the letter C today!
But seriously- I think if we start talking about sex more, educating ourselves and others, normalizing using lube, wearing condoms, and getting tested regularly for people of all ages that would be a great place to start. We should also talk about getting older and all the changes that happen so they aren’t so scary, so we can be prepared. We should combine the two and talk about having sex and sexual relationships as older women as well. Only through making these things common and not so taboo will attitudes like tis eventually start to change.
And that’s my soapbox for today!
What do you think? Do you think our medical community and our culture, in general, think that older women are not having sex?
Here are some other posts you may enjoy: (All written by a soon to be 50 yr old woman who is out there having ALL THE SEX- please!)