Joan Price is the author of two books about senior sex, Naked At Our Age and Better Than I Ever Expected. In addition to general issues affecting older people, her books also discuss her own sex life — including her decision, a year and a half after her husband’s death, to get a “happy ending” massage from a practitioner named Sunyata. The experience was fulfilling to say the least, resulting in multiple orgasms. She writes, “I gave myself up to Sunyata’s expert hands, and the ocean soared and roared in crashing waves of pleasure.” Price talked to us about her “happy ending,” what happened afterwards, and what we all could stand to learn about older women’s sexuality.
Was it hard for you, as a woman, to seek out an erotic massage?
Yes, it was hard, because it was totally against anything I had ever done before. I won’t say that I was prudish in any way, but it hadn’t crossed my mind until I was in that situation of really wanting the sexual release, wanting it with another person, wanting to explore whether I could still respond to a man. I knew I couldn’t just put myself on ice for the rest of my life, and part of that was reconnecting with my own sexuality. It was a huge step for me, and had I not known the person who gave me the referral, I wouldn’t have gone through with it. But I trusted the person who gave me the referral, and then in talking with the practitioner that I ended up going with, I felt quite at ease with him. I didn’t know it would end up in two books, but that’s what happened.
Did you go back after the first time?
I went once to him, and once to someone else later. It would be nice to do that every week but it’s expensive. And I think I got what I needed from it — not just the wonderful physical release and great experience to write about, but I got that reentry into life.
Have you talked to other women who have gotten erotic massages?
In my book, another woman tells her story of having a long-term relationship with a male service provider, and there it wasn’t a kind of new-agey massage that led to orgasm. It was much more direct: she was hiring sex. She had a great time with the man, after having had a marriage where for many many years her husband told her she was “too fat to fuck.” She had horrible self-esteem from that bad relationship and she said, “I want to just indulge myself.” She and this guy got along famously, she hired him quite regularly, and ultimately he told her to stop paying. So then they started dating — it’s not a steady boyfriend kind of thing, but they get together and have a wonderful time together. I was so proud of this woman for talking about that.
Do you have tips for women to safely get this kind of massage?
I wish I did, but I don’t know enough to advise other women other than to start by asking a friend to refer you to someone specific. But you could ask 100 friends and 98 would be shocked, so it can be quite difficult. Also you should know it’s illegal to hire sex so anyone who advertises is going to have to deal with that issue. Basically, you have to really know who you’re getting involved with, because it can be hard for a woman — if they’re in the wrong situation, they can feel very unsafe.
How do you deal with the “ick factor” surrounding senior sex — people’s perception that it’s somehow gross?
There are really two ick factors. One is the idea from society at large that seniors are asexual, and if they are sexual, they’re pathetic. And also many seniors have internalized the idea that we’re not desirable anymore. So we’re embarrassed about wanting sex, and that’s really the hardest challenge.
To society at large I say, “At what age do you plan to retire your sex life?” and just let people see that it’s ridiculous and arbitrary to think that at a certain age we have to stop being interested in sex.
It’s harder to combat this view within my own age group. We’ve never talked out loud about sex — our generation grew up with sex as a shrouded thing. So what i try to do is model talking out loud about senior sex. I find that people want to talk back to me and ask me questions. I went to my 50th high school reunion last summer, and I hadn’t seen these people since we were all 17. I gave a talk, at the end I asked if there were any questions. For the first time ever there was silence in the room. I said, “I know what’s going on. The last time we were all together we were horny 17-year-olds, and you’re not going to ask a question about vaginal dryness or erectile dysfunction in front of all these people. So if you have a question, just tap me on shoulder, and we can have a private consultation in the corner.” All weekend long I was giving consultations in the corner.
Do you see a gender difference in how senior sex is perceived — are older men judged differently for being sexual than older women?
Yes, there is a difference. In one way, society is more patient wtih older men who are still into sex than it is with older women, because the older men are in positions of power or money, and they can have a hot young thing on their arm. Whereas with an older woman, society tends to want to clamp down and say she’s not very sexy, look at those wrinkles, look at that saggy skin.
However, men are still laughed at too — that old geezer. And older men can be played by younger women.
Do women really lose interest in sex as they get older?
Often it’s true that they’re not as interested. One reason is that the old ways don’t work anymore. Even something as specific as where I want to be touched, how I want to be touched, how fast, how hard, how much pressure — that can all change. The other thing that happens is that with hormonal depletion and because we’re no longer fertile, our biological urge is not necessarily there the way it used to be. So one key tip I give to women is that we used to think that we needed to feel desire first, and then we’d work towards arousal. But if we don’t feel desire and we’re with a partner we like, we should just do it. Sometimes desire follows arousal instead of the other way around, and that’s something that’s so new to women and their male partners.
What’s something about senior sex that would surprise younger people?
What young people would be surprised by is how fulfilling sex can be whatever the age of the body. We are capable of great delight and wonderful orgasms, and this is lifelong. This is our birthright. You don’t have to decide at a certain age that you have to retire your genitals.
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