There was something entirely different on my agenda for today's post but then that headline (minus the question mark) popped into the ol' inbox first thing yesterday and I couldn't resist tracking down who was claiming such a ridiculous thing. Following the link, I read,
”An active sex life during old age could be the key to maintaining and preserving a youthful look.
“The finding, carried out by the British psychologist "Dr David Weeks", was presented to the British Psychological Society.”
That report is from a medical news website but, in complete irresponsibility, without an iota of research referenced.
Some poking around the web resulted in a short notice (with no additional information) about a paper Dr. Weeks (who is the former head of old age psychology at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital in Scotland) presented a few days ago at the annual conference of the Faculty of the Psychology of Older People in Colchester, England. Again, no research is mentioned.
It took a Daily Mail story about Weeks's paper to get specific about exactly how much younger Weeks says you will look if you're – um, doing it regularly.
”Dr David Weeks’s research shows that older men and women with an active love life look between five and seven years younger than their actual age.”
Research? What research? The closest thing I can find is a book Weeks co-authored, Secrets of the Superyoung, published way back in 1998 which contained interviews with a bunch of celebrities like Angela Lansbury, Ben Bradlee and Jack LaLanne. As Publishers Weekly noted at the time,
”The second half [of the book] provides advice on how readers might join the ranks of the superyoung. But little fresh material is presented there: exercise your body and mind, the authors advise; eat well, reduce stress, enjoy sex, be happy. Despite a valiant attempt at scientific evaluation, there is no fountain of wisdom about youthfulness to be found here.”
The Telegraph, at least, made the doctor sound slightly more serious although, again, no research was noted:
”[Weeks] said sex has a number of health benefits which can make men and women look between five and seven years younger which includes; it causes the release of endorphins, the ‘feel good’ chemical which acts as a natural painkiller and reduces anxiety aiding sleep; exercise boosts circulation which is good for the heart; and it also causes the human growth hormone to be released which makes the skin look more elastic.”
The whole thing – all the similar-sounding, so-called “news” reports (there are plenty more I have spared you) – smells of titilation and wishful thinking based on nothing but an elusive paper at an obscure conference that may or may not be based on research that is 12 or 14 years old.
But if you subtract the silly notion that sex makes you look exactly five to seven years younger, Weeks's prescription for more sex among elders is worth stating and it's too bad the psychologist delegitimizes his point by sensationalizing it with a nonsensical, unprovable assertion.
Here's what I think: Neither Dr Weeks nor many others know much about sex and old people, and I suspect few physicians ask their patients about sexual activity. So aside from Viagra prescriptions (a large number of which are for mid-age and younger men), there is not much basis to know anything about elders and sex.
I also think old people who have a spouse, a partner, a friend with benefits or whatever other arrangement are, if physically capable, probably getting it on a whole lot more than younger people believe. Why wouldn't we – it's about the best-feeling and friendliest thing two people can do.
However, I think, too, that we old folks just don't talk about sex as much as younger people – maybe because we know they believe (as we once did) that they are the first generation since the world was new to discover sex and anyway, the idea of old people shagging is icky to them. So we keep our mouths shut.
And here is one more thing: Undoubtedly, sex has physical and psychological benefits. I've always found it to be a feel-good drug and fun too. But making an old person look seven years younger? Oh, please.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mage Bailey: The Cookbook Lady