To cover or not to cover: that is the dam question

True confession: I have always been ambivalent about safer oro-genital sex.

Although we talked a good line about it at Toronto Public Health (TPH) where I worked as a sexual health educator for 30 years, no one was listening.  As did other health units, we even suggested cutting up a condom to use over the vulva or anus if they didn’t have a dental dam.  Maybe they still do.  But I felt we were asking people to take a step they were unlikely to follow; and I was afraid they would dismiss all of our risk reduction strategies.  For that reason, I tried – and failed – to take barrier protection for oro-genital contact out of our print materials.

At the TPH sexual health clinic where I worked as a counsellor, sex workers were the only people protecting themselves and their clients by using condoms for oral sex on a penis.

I recently posted an article about dental dams and some 40 year olds of my acquaintance said – and I quote – “A what”?  They had never heard of dental dams.

“…about 30 years after dams hit the market, awareness of and demand for them remains shockingly low.”

Nope.  Not shocking at all.  Practically no one asked for dams at clinic during those 30 years.

When I read the article, I did think they could have specified exactly which Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) one could contract through unprotected mouth to genital contact.  This can be critical information for some.  We know, for example, that men having unprotected oral sex with multiple male partners are at a higher risk for HIV if they are already infected with syphilis.  But when I broached condom use to these men at clinic, they said their risk reduction strategy was more frequent testing.  So we tested them more frequently.  There was no way they were going to use condoms for oral sex.

So here we go…

Oro-genital sex and STIs – the facts

Syphilis.  Not a common STI but on the rise.  Syphilis is known as the great imitator because the symptoms may mimic other STIs.  The first symptom is a chancre (pronounced “shanker”) which may appear at the point of contact.  However, if you have a chancre in your mouth or just inside the anus, you may not be aware of it because it is a painless sore.  If untreated, syphilis may advance to a second or a third stage, eventually damaging internal organs and causing death.  As I said above, it also increases the risk for the transmission of HIV because the virus can enter the bloodstream more easily if there is a chancre.  Syphilis is cured by antibiotics.

Otherwise, unprotected oro-genital sex is considered low risk for HIV.  For a person who is HIV positive and taking medication, it is almost impossible to transmit.

Gonorrhea and chlamydia are both transmissible through unprotected oro-genital sex – and they are both curable with antibiotics.

Hepatitis A virus, Shigella and intestinal parasites (amebiasis) can be spread through giving unprotected oral sex on the anus.

HSV-1 (herpes 1) causes cold sores.  Like genital herpes (HSV-2), it is easy to transmit even when there are no sores.  During workshops on STIs, I used to tell people that getting HSV-1 wasn’t the end of the world.  It tends not to be as painful as genital herpes and recurs less frequently.  It is also more difficult to transmit from one person’s genitals to another’s.

If you have a history of cold sores, it is only fair to tell a partner before using your mouth on their vulva, penis or anus.  They need to know about the possibility of transmission even when there is no cold sore present.  The next step is to ask if they want to use barrier protection or not.  It’s their decision.  (Here is more  information)

HPV (Human Papillomavirus).  You have heard about this virus in its relation to cervical cancer.  More recently, there has been a lot of discussion about HPV and “head and neck cancers” which may start in the mouth, nose, throat, larynx, sinuses, or salivary glands.

“Alcohol and tobacco are known risk factors for most head and neck cancers, and incidence rates are found to be higher in regions with high rates of alcohol and tobacco consumption.  During the past few decades, several countries have witnessed a decline in oral cavity cancer incidence correlating to a decline in tobacco use. However, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the United States, and the United Kingdom, have seen an increasing rate of oropharyngeal and oral cavity cancers despite declines in smoking rates since the 1980s. This has led to theories that human papillomavirus (HPV) infection might be an additional risk factor for developing certain head and neck cancers.”  rrent research is focusing on the relationship between the increasing inclusion of oral sex in people’s sexual repertoire and the spread of HPV to the oral cavity.  Before you panic and head for the dams, it should be pointed out that most people clear HPV infection with a good immune system; and that the number of oral sex partners tends to increase risk.

Bottom line…

We know that we need to negotiate safer sex when it comes to genital to genital contact.  For some, that means we get tested for the usual suspects (chlamydia, gonorrhea and HIV) and then decide if we are going to use barrier protection.  In the same way, we need to talk about our oro-genital behaviours.  In the end, it’s up to you.

 

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Can we prevent child sexual abuse?

The ongoing coverage about alleged peer sexual assaults at St. Michael’s College coincided with a report on CBC’s The Current about teachers’ sexual predation of Ottawa high school students which had recently come to light. These stories took me back more than 25 years to the day I found out that my son’s high school music teacher, Graham Wishart, had sexually assaulted dozens of boys over the years and had finally been charged.

Both stories raised the same issue for me: can we prevent child sexual abuse?

Over the years, I have contended that we cannot.  A person who, for whatever reason, chooses to act on their desire to manipulate a child into sexual activity, will find a way.  However, there are some measures we can take to potentially thwart abuse; and certainly measures we can take so that a child recognizes sexual abuse for what it is – and discloses.

When I started working for Toronto Public Health as a sexual health educator in 1982, sexual abuse was not on our radar.  When we did start learning about it, I found myself deeply interested.  I read several books and kept up to date with journal articles.  We invited experts to do ongoing training.

School programs began to emerge after the establishment of a special committee on child abuse, most notably, Journey from AMU (All Mixed Up).  But there was disagreement about the appropriate age to begin this education and how to measure its success.

Later programs that identified “stranger danger” and encouraged children to “say no, go and tell”, were eventually discredited.  Most children cannot say no to an adult.  In any case, over 90% of offenders are known to the child and often trusted by them.

Eventually, I designed my own lesson plan for grade five children, the last in a series on the changes of puberty, where we discussed what was OK and not OK in touching.  Then I would read a story I had written about a girl who discloses unwanted attention from her mother’s boyfriend.  This lesson plan was adopted by my colleagues.  We sometimes complemented the lesson with a film called, “No More Secrets”.  Over the years, following those classes, several students disclosed to me.  I would then contact Children’s Aid.

My colleagues and I were also running workshops for parents on raising sexually healthy children.  We would encourage them to add dictionary words for genitals to their children’s vocabulary.  I would include the story told by one parent about how she was unable to stop her abuse because she only knew the term “cookie” for her genitals.  When she told a teacher someone wanted to touch her cookie, she was reminded about sharing.

I also discussed the difference between expected and unexpected child sexual exploration.  I encouraged them to tell their children there should never be any secret touching.  I gave them resources from Boost and sometimes listened privately to their own stories.

When the story about Graham Wishart broke, several dynamics went into play.  There was mixed support for the boy who reported, as there was mixed support for Wishart.  Some teachers and parents rallied around this popular music teacher and closed ranks.  Some students did not rally around the boy who disclosed.

What this tells me is that our society was – and continues to be – remiss.  We do not ensure basic education for parents, teachers and children about child sexual abuse: how to recognize it, how it can take place once or over a period of time; and its potential sequelae.  Today, everyone is familiar with the subsequent trauma which affects some people for the rest of their lives.  Residential schools have certainly brought home that message.

Teachers have been told to curtail their physical expressions of encouragement and support to their students for fear of crossing a line.  Perhaps that has made a positive difference (aside from the negative impact on the emotional attachment to their students).  But, in Ontario, the 2015 revised sexual health curriculum, taught under Human Growth and Development, could have made a substantial change.  However, before lesson plans could be devised and implemented, the curriculum was pulled by the current government.  That curriculum included teaching grade one children dictionary words for all body parts.  It included notions of consent from an early age all the way to high school.

Teachers learn very little about sexual health education in their teacher’s college and university programs.  For years, Toronto Public Health sexual health educators played a major role training them to deliver this programming.  Some of us were also asked to do ongoing training for physical education teachers who were often designated to teach this segment of the curriculum.  But some school boards have been so apprehensive of parental backlash to the revised curriculum that they are shying away from this support.

Where does that leave kids?

Ignorance is dangerous.  Education is powerful.  It is incumbent on all of us – parents, educators, teachers and students – to ensure that we fully understand the dynamics of sexual exploitation and its effects.  We do not want to see students engaged in non-consensual behaviour; and we certainly do not want them to re-victimize someone by filming and posting the crime for others’ entertainment.  We do not want to see teachers exploiting vulnerable students; we do want them to listen to a disclosure, react appropriately and report.  We do not want older adolescents or adults to sexually abuse children.  If they recognize their desire to exploit a child, they need support in curbing the desire to act on it.

We may not be able to prevent sexual abuse in all instances, but we have the tools to turn the tide.

Sex ed PSA

This is not an original post.  Ernest Lavventura wrote it on Facebook and I wanted to find a way to publicize it.  If you read my blog on why the conservative approach to sex education does not work, that will provide the context.

Sex Ed PSA:

For the teachers and/or parents concerned with the Ontario government’s ramping up of their anti-sex ed crusade, here are a some ideas:

1. This should not be something health/phys ed teachers deal with alone. Encourage your teacher to organize informal staff meetings to find ways to support the banned curriculum in all other areas of the curriculum so that one teacher does not become the target of the snitch line.

2. The Ontario curriculum cannot be taught in its entirety. There are overall expectations that are expected to be covered. Then there are specific expectations that act as a guideline for how a unit is taught. Creative teachers use some of these specific expectations as a very good starting point, which leads to the next point.

3. Effective teachers integrate information and ideas from across different parts of the curriculum. In fact, the Ontario curriculum is written with tons of cross-curricular opportunities, even related to the health ed curriculum. Keep this in mind with considering Number 1.

4. For example, across the elementary reading curriculum students are expected to read a wide range of culturally diverse texts. Introducing texts with diverse families would certainly satisfy this expectation, which happens to be the FIRST specific expectation of the reading curriculum.

5. Another example is that the homeroom teacher can and should teach responsible internet and social media use. This would make a very good media literacy unit. Polite and responsible online behaviour dovetails nicely into questions of consent. Another media lit project can examine how women/girls are portrayed in the media, which can lead to all sorts of other questions such as how are portrayals of sexuality in the media (such as porn which kids are seeing) can be quite negative and unhealthy.

6. There are all kinds of connections to the birds and the bees in the science curriculum. Try to teach the grade 5 human body strand without allowing anatomically correct vocabulary. Science is not effectively taught through euphemisms!

7. Best of all, no one can make accusations of teaching the revised health curriculum. Nope, I’m just teaching the curriculum.

8. If you do support the 2015 curriculum, explicitly voice support to your teachers, administrators, trustees, MPPs, and other parents. A very quick email will do. We get too many emails these days. [And if you don’t support the 2015 curriculum, good luck to you!]

9. It’s not enough to say you’ll teach this stuff at home. Many parents, like mine, never had these discussions with their kids. Not all kids have the parents comfortable enough to talk about this, hence the need for this stuff in schools.

10. Finally, flood the heck out of that Kellie Leitch-esque snitch line (fortheparents.ca) voicing your support for the revised curriculum. This is where you can send lots of emails.

These are just 10 ideas I brainstormed in about half an hour. There is a lot more teachers and parents can do, so please encourage these kinds of discussions throughout this conflict.

And feel free to share this, change it, or to add your own ideas. Thank you.

 

 

Porn and sex ed

Listening to CBC’s The Current this morning I had a flashback to one of my earliest experiences teaching a puberty class, some time in the 1980s.

I was answering their written questions, when I came across one about a woman and a horse.  In those days, kids’ access to porn was through magazines and videotapes – you know, those things that were  supposed to be locked up in the cabinet?  If memory serves, I answered the best I could without being too graphic.  I let them know that sexual activities with a person and an animal is called bestiality, which is illegal, because it exploits the animal.  And although some adults like to watch those videos, they are not for children.

I am not sure how I made through the rest of the day.

The introductory lesson we used in puberty classes for 10 and 11 year olds included asking where they got their information about puberty and sexuality.  I began to ask classes whether they had computers at home and if they had access to the Internet.  Then I asked whether they had ever come across images that upset, frightened or grossed them out.  Inevitably, at least half of the hands would go up.

I wanted to know how they handled it.

Most of them said they would “exit” or shut off the computer.  I also suggested that they tell an adult that they had come across these images so that they could deal with their feelings and have their questions answered.  Hopefully the adult(s) at home could prevent any inadvertent re-appearance of porn sites.

Their admission gave me the opportunity to tell them this was adult entertainment, that it was not a typical representation of how people were intimate with each other; and that it was not helpful for them to continue looking at it at their age.

Back in the 1987, York University’s Dr. James Check said 12 – 17 year olds were the primary consumers of pornography (address at Humber College conference, “Sexuality ’87: Male Sexuality” April 23-24, 1987).  In the age of the Internet, it is safe to say that children and adolescents have free access to explicit sexual images (as well as some very useful information if they know where to find it).  Some kids will seek out pornographic images out of curiosity and/or because they want to masturbate to these images.

Is pornography harmful?

The adolescent/adult use and misuse of pornography has been a pretty hot topic these past few decades.  Feminists, academics (feminist or not) sex educators and religious critics have weighed in on the potential ill effects; e.g., the porn driven sexual scripts adopted by young people, the unrealistic expectations raised by perfect bodies, huge penises and never ending streams of ejaculate, the need for increased jolts upping the ante in visual violence; and the normalization of sexual activities which, although considered repugnant by some, may become an inevitable expectation.

While some adults choose the erotica or pornography with which they feel comfortable, others have become increasingly dependent on it, disturbed by their inability to relate intimately with real, live lovers.  However, while there is plenty of ink spilled on these issues, the academic literature is far from definitive.

We do not yet know for certain the effect of these images on children and adolescents.  “Not helpful” is a safe guess.

Consent and choice

Guiding principles for sexual health education include comprehensiveness.  Talking with children and adolescents about porn is part of sex education.  The cornerstone of teaching about sexual activity is, as always, consent.

When friends encourage them to watch porn, when they are asked to send sexual images of themselves or when their images are sent on for the entertainment of others there is a clear lack of consent.  Talking with older adolescents about pornographic scenarios and the portrayed lack of consent as well as the normalization of violence is critical to their understanding of how damaging some of these scenarios may be to their sexual development.

People who are raising children – and their allies in the classroom – need to face reality: children and adolescents are exposed to images which we do not feel are appropriate for their age.  Frank discussions about the reasons why they should wait until they are older to make these decisions are a critical component of comprehensive sexual health education.  We do not need to be judgmental or prescriptive; but we do need to try to dissuade them from using porn while they are children.

I look forward to the day when erotica and pornography for adults will be like fair trade coffee or chocolate: made by participants who have a stake in the game; enjoyed by people who savour what they have chosen.

In the meantime, this does not include our children.

 

Good sex, forced sex and points in between

Before you click away from one more article on sexual misconduct, what do you think of this: gadgets as the answer to sexual violence?  The article details a number of ingenious repellants to rape.  My first thought was, while a gadget might prevent vaginal rape, the resulting rage may very well provoke physical injury or death.  Surely the answer lies elsewhere.

The article reminded me of the teaching tool I used in high schools – the continuum of consent.  I would draw a line on the board.  At the right end of the continuum, I wrote violent sexual assault.  Starting at the left side of the continuum, I wrote mutual consent, then playful seduction, coercion and so on back in the direction of forcible sex.  The current tsunami of sexual misconduct allegations lives here in the centre of the continuum: coercion due to male entitlement and power.

On a call-in show today, I heard the phrase “feminist agenda” regarding the latest misconduct allegations against local politicians.  The caller blamed media’s political leanings and feminists for ruining careers.  Callers also wanted to know why women do not just walk away from a bad situation.  “She was of age”, is the argument.  Susan Cole writes, “…women tend to want to ‘solve’ the situation rather than remove themselves”.  She adds, “How about talking?  Ask a woman what she wants and when she answers, take her seriously”.

But even mutual consent on the left of the continuum is not always straightforward.

After an early dismissal from jury selection the other day, a young woman recognized me from puberty classes I had taught about two decades before.  She said she had thought of me lately as she was trying to figure out what consent means. To celebrate this unexpected gift of time, we decided to continue to chat over coffee.

She believes one should ask for consent every time.  I asked her, “every time what?  Every time you kiss, every time you seem to be heading towards intercourse?”  She is married and said that her husband knows her so well that consent for any intimate activity is unspoken.

As an educator, my question is, how do we promote affirmative, ongoing consent for adolescents, for adults who have just met, and, yes, even for couples that have been together for years? How do we engage all genders to desire true intimacy and the communication skills to find it?

People who were brought up in a society where rape culture is prevalent may experience misguided expectations leading to miscommunication: mixed signals coupled with a lack of self awareness and clarity.  Even if one has overtly agreed to a particular form of sexual intimacy, there may still be discomfort, distaste or regret during the act – or afterwards.

Zosia Bielski quotes Karen B. K. Chan, a Toronto-based sex and emotional-literacy educator. “We have been saying for a while now that consent is a low bar. It is the lowest bar there is. After that, we need to talk about sexual pleasure and good sex – sex that you actually want to have…” .  Her article raises the notion of good sex .

Lili Loufbourow takes up the issue writing about pain during vaginal sex.

Research shows that 30 percent of women report pain during vaginal sex, 72 percent report pain during anal sex, and ‘large proportions’ don’t tell their partners when sex hurts.”

During classes on sexual assault I would pose the following question: Is it OK to say no at any time?  In other words, is it ever OK to interrupt sexual activity once it has started?  Most students were ready to acknowledge that one could.  The question remains, do we actually do this?

While there may not be pain during a sexual activity, there may not be pleasure either; for example, it may be boring.  If it is not pleasurable, what is the point of continuing?  We agree to sexual activities for a variety of reasons; and we may not be proud of all of them.  We may acquiesce because it is expected, or because of our partner’s needs; we may not want to hurt their feelings; we may not want to jeopardize the relationship; we may hope that it will start to feel better soon – as it sometimes does.  While we may have progressed beyond the Victorian dictum “close your eyes and think of England”, we want a great deal more.  Why should we have to work ourselves into a state of desire with a partner who is unaware of its absence?

I remember an incident with a long-term partner.  I had lost interest in the proceedings and told him so.  He got very angry, sat up in bed and said in a menacing voice, “But I want to”.  That incident could have ended up quite differently than our turning away from each other in distress and anger.

The WHO definition of sexual health includes “the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence”.   No gadget will get you there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Women in Lust – The Sex Goddess Project

In April of this year, I attended the Toronto International Porn Festival.  I spent a few hours watching films – and clips of films – curated from the last ten years of feminist pornography.  I am not a consumer, but I figured any sex educator worth her salt should dip in every now and again.  I’m glad I did: There was fun; there was joy; and consent was the order of the day.

My views of pornography had evolved over the years.  Consumer prevalence remains high.  An article in the Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality reports that, when asked about their recent online solitary arousal experiences, 91.7% of the men interviewed said they had watched sexually explicit videos involving men and women; and 47.4% of the women.  The sample: 239 young adults at a Canadian university.  Current mainstream heterosexual pornography, where the scenes are rough and misogynistic, appeals particularly to young adult males.  While they work for self-pleasuring, they are not so good at helping men figure out how to be good lovers.

There is quite a difference between what one considers to be great sex and popular depictions of sex aside from pornography.  On TV doc-and-police shows, the scene goes straight from the mutual recognition that two people want to get it on, to ripping off each other’s clothes at the nearest opportunity.  No slow build and little context.  And standard, gorgeous bodies.

In the new TV series, The Good Fight, so far, there is only one loving, ongoing intimate relationship – Maia and her wife – and sadly, their sexual intimacy gets splashed all over the Internet in retaliation for her father’s Ponzi scheme.  Maia’s mother has a long-term adulterous relationship with her brother-in-law.  Lucca the lawyer, (remember her from The Good Wife?) seems to be as cold blooded as The Good Wife’s Kalinda.  Diane Lockhart sleeps with her ex-husband, which she says the next morning, was nice, but then refuses to renew their relationship beyond friendship.

Perhaps the lack of relatable intimate relationships is a metaphor for the series’ theme of whom to trust.  After all, trust is the hallmark of a positive relationship.  And from vanilla to kink, consent needs to be the order of the day.

Enter Ricardo Scipio

Ricardo contacted me about his newest book, “The Sex Goddess Project”.  Huffington Post recently interviewed him about it and  included some of his photos.  I liked what I saw and willingly posted excerpts from his press release on my professional Facebook page.

Says Scipio,

“If sexual images were food, people would be inundated with cheap junk food. I wanted to create a body of work that offers something more nutritious and satisfying for the health conscious, more discerning palette.”

He sent me a preview of photos from his latest book.  Lucky me: I had the opportunity to peruse dozens of images of women having a lusty old time doing all kinds of sexual activities in a variety of positions with a variety of partners.  These images reminded me of those I had seen at the porn festival – except they are not porn.

Scipio is not producing porn, which he doesn’t watch and whose messages he abhors.

“I’m a lover of all things authentic, and porn isn’t authentic.”

“Women have for too long, and in too many cultures, had their sexuality suppressed – only to be pseudo-released within the stiflingly unkind world of porn. I’m extremely humbled and proud to provide a vehicle for women to unapologetically express themselves with love and authenticity; something porn cannot offer. Sex is way too important to leave in the hands of pornographers.”

His photos portray real people of all body types, skin tones, genders and orientations. One of his models said,

“This was important.  It was a chance to be an activist in the sensual world. To reclaim sex for the othered bodies. The fatties, the people of color. To call bullshit on the ones who say ‘we’ don’t do this simply because they had never seen it done.”

Many of the women in his photos are looking straight at the camera with a huge smile on their face.  It is not the come-on of porn: It’s “Look at me; I am having such a good time”.  Most of the focus is on their pleasure.

To be honest, I did not get a buzz from the photos; my pleasure as a viewer was aesthetic and political.

His models understand this:

“Let’s just say that the bloom is beginning to fade. I’m a 51-year old woman who is 150 lbs overweight…  After Ricardo asked if I would be photographed for his Sex Goddess book, I realized that showing the inner me – the one who loves sex and feels that it is her special, healing gift – should be shown in full daylight. Yes, I’m fat. Yes, I’m older. However, I don’t want to be shamed into feeling badly about my body because our culture deems it ‘ugly’ or ‘gross’ to be sexual if you’re of a certain age and size…”

I am looking forward to seeing the rest of the collection.  The book is not available to the general public – just to Scipio’s supporters and those who collect his work. However, in order to showcase the “ethos” of the project, he is planning an invitation-only online gallery screening for Canadians on May 20 and 21. Anyone can request an invitation.  I recommend that you do.

 

 

Aging and sex – what do we really want?

Recently over coffee, a friend complained that none of her friends seemed to want to talk about their sex lives any more.  Bear in mind, we are both hovering around 70.  You might be thinking: of course your peers don’t want to talk about their non-existent sex lives.

And you would be wrong.  Several of my aging women friends have healthy libidos and a strong sense of themselves as sexual people.  But they are sad that health issues get in the way.

Despite my friend’s regret that her friends did not want to open up, because I am a sexual health educator, other women have been very chatty with me.

“I miss it”, said one.  “It’s not like we aren’t loving with each other, but I miss sex, the way we used to enjoy it.

“I feel a sense of loss”, said another.  Because of my partner’s medication, his libido is completely gone.  He is happy to please me when I initiate, but it feels so one-sided”.

“We’ve worked something out,” said a woman whose husband is disabled due to a stroke.  In other words, they have figured out how to be sexual by getting around the impediments.

“My partner is like a teenager.  In his early ‘70s, he is ready – and able – at any time.”

“When my husband was in his early ‘80s, he found that he was unable to have an orgasm after his prostate surgery, so intercourse went on too long and too painfully.  We finally just gave it up.”

When I told one of my friends that I wanted to quote her in this article, she wrote:

“I would add that it isn’t just “health” issues per se that gets in the way, but our naturally aging bodies.  I don’t consider my thinning vaginal wall that makes sex painful a health issue as much as one of the unfortunate consequences of my body – at this age, biologically speaking – not needing so much estrogen anymore.”

Quite the range of responses.  And I haven’t even asked my lesbian friends.

What does the research say?

I have written before about sexuality and aging  as well as the “joys” of online dating and the sexual pleasures of aging.  I have given workshops on the issue and spoken at conferences, but I can’t seem to let this topic go.  And the personal stories are so compelling.

The studies tell their own stories.

“One such study noted that, “61% of all women in this cohort were satisfied with their overall sex life. Although older age has been described as a significant predictor of low sexual satisfaction, the percentage of…sexually satisfied women actually increased with age, with approximately half of the women over 80 years old reporting sexual satisfaction almost always or always.” This confirmed an earlier study by the National Council on Aging which concluded, “Seventy-four percent of the sexually active men and 70% of the sexually active women reported being as satisfied or even more satisfied with their sexual lives than they were in their 40s.”

And lest we forget, no matter how we define “sex”, intimacy generally trumps sensation.  Alex McKay of SIECCAN  said in a talk on mid-life sex and STIs, that there was, in his opinion, a “six-minute rule”.  Quoting a study on heterosexual use of condoms, he said 71% of women who had 6 – 10 minutes of post sex affectionate behaviour rated their last penis in vagina (PIV) intercourse as ‘very pleasurable’ as opposed to 44% of women who experienced 0 – 5 minutes.

Health Canada is encouraging us to carry on as is the Canadian Public Health Association.

“Along with better health and active aging comes sex! A nationally representative sample of 3,005 Americans between 57 and 85 years of age revealed that nearly three quarters of seniors aged 57 to 64 were sexually active; while more than half of seniors aged 65 to 74 and more than a quarter aged 75 to 85 reported being sexually active.”

However, medication can interfere with one’s sex life at any age.  For example, “currently available antidepressants may aggravate sexual dysfunction and make depression worse, a new survey of US adults with major depressive disorder (MDD) suggests.”

There are other meds that can get in the way of sexual functioning.

And people get scared to become “active” after an illness like a heart attack.

“Although most younger patients are sexually active 1 year after an acute MI [AMI], one in 15 women and one in 20 men never resume one of life’s greatest pleasures, a new report finds.”

Tell me what you want, what you really, really want

Another factor in maintaining sexual relationships into our ‘70s and ‘80s may be loss of interest, especially for those in long-term relationships.  Like lesbian bed death, for heterosexuals, the statistics are just a bit less “drastic”.

Then there are those older people having great sex, by which I mean at least connection and intimacy.  Others may be having more PIV sex because of erectile dysfunction medication, which may bring its own problems, like oppressive demands.  According to a study  back in 2003, “few studies have focused on the possible detrimental effects for women of Viagra use within a heterosexual relationship”.

“We argue that while previous medically-oriented research in this area has generally assumed an unproblematic link between Viagra use and the resumption of penetrative sex within heterosexual relationships, more attention needs to be paid to partners’ perspectives and desires, and to the specific dynamics of any given relationship.”

One wonders which people would choose: great sex without intimacy or intimacy without full sexual functioning.

I guess we want it all.  Love.  Intimacy.  Good sex, however we define “sex”.

Surely when there is open communication and a willingness to please, there is pleasure to be had.  If we see ourselves as desirable, some of that can translate into – if not desire and the mechanics that go with it – at least the desire to please.  And while some of us are wistful, others may be envious of others’ good fortune, however much of it “all” we have.

I look forward to hearing your stories.

Here are some disability resources that may be useful to people who are aging.