Here's a personal story I've probably told before but it has some small bearing today as it is about Viagra and when I think about it now and then these 17 years later, it still amuses me and makes me happy for my friend.
A neighbor on Bedford Street in Greenwich Village was a man named Len who was probably, at this time, closer to 90 than 80 years of age. We hung out on my excellent sitting stoop some evenings when he was walking his dog and from time to time, we shared our expertise, or lack thereof, about our computers.
This incident took place one early morning a month or two or three after Viagra first became available in 1998. Len was just outside the door to his townhouse as I walked past in a sort-of rush on my way to work. “Morning, Len,” I said, waving.
I had intended to keep going but Len stopped me. Clearly eager about something, he grabbed my arm and said, “Ronni, Ronni, I have to tell you something very exciting. Viagra works!”
This was clearly a TMI moment but what could I do? His delight was infectious and I grinned too. “I'm so happy for you, Len, but I'm late for work.” And off I went.
The big sex news story last week was about a drug, flibanserin, that is being called the female Viagra by some people. It is said to increase women's libido and the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA), the media tells us, is poised to approve it for sale later this month.
The fact that it doesn't work (studies show no more than one-half to one additional satisfying sexual event per month) and has potentially dangerous side effects (sleepiness, nausea, low blood pressure and fainting that increase significantly when mixed with alcohol) didn't deter an FDA advisory panel from recommending approval.
But for most of us who hang out at this blog, none of that is here or there; the drug is intended for PRE-menopausal women.
Anyway, what interests me more is a type of sex story that doesn't get as much attention as female Viagra but appears to me to be growing in the media. It's the “oh-my-god-did-you-know-that-old-people-fuck?” story.
In recent years, there have been several studies confirming that old people are getting it on just like younger people but the reporters writing about these studies are so damned surprised.
”Sexed-up seniors do it more than you'd think,” headlines a story at NBCNews.
”People In Their 70s And 80s Far More Sexually Active Than Once Thought,” at Medical Daily
In other stories, writers are using the research to debunk myths that hardly exist outside the (usually young) writers' heads.
”They myth that you can’t or shouldn’t have sex past a certain age needs to stop,” says someone at the Daily Beast.
”5 Myths About Senior Sex That We Should All Stop Believing,” says another headline.
Since that last one was published at Huffpost 50, a section of the news website meant for people that age and older, it's hard to know who it is the writer thinks believes those myths – I don't think actual old people do. Such myths as:
”Sex isn't as important in relationships when you're older.
“Sex becomes kind of "vanilla" as you get older.
“Older people aren't having sex.”
Oh, please. Young people may think “eew” at the idea of their parents having sex, but I doubt even they think we don't – except maybe the Huffpost 50+ writer:
“Sex isn't just defined as intercourse for post 50s. A national survey of over 3,000 older adults found 28 percent of men said they engaged in oral sex along with 36 percent of the females. That's not all. Just under 30 percent of men and 16 percent of women said they had masturbated in the past year.”
Oh, my. Isn't that a shocker. She probably wonders how old people learned about those things.
Okay, maybe I'm being unfair. The writer is clearly in her twenties but still, where does she think her generation came from?
Even with older writers, the condescension about sex and age can be irritating. In her own way, the internet guru of elder sex, Joan Price, can't stop telling old people how to do it, as though we are just now learning.
Lately, most of the information on her Sex & Aging blog is reviews of vibrators. That should not be dismissed but there is a lot more interesting stuff about sex and old age than toys even if there are a lot of single elders.
All this cutesy writing and apparent surprise discovery that sex continues into old age remind me that there does exist good, practical, non-patronizing information about sex.
Remember Dr. Ruth Westheimer? She pioneered talking openly about sex 35 years ago and I can't find anyone today who can do it as honestly, comfortably and with as much obvious delight in the subject as Dr. Ruth.
Dr. Ruth is 87 now and she's writing books, answering questions and offering advice as she's done for the past 35 or 40 years. Late last year, she spoke about sex at a senior residence in Florida where she was also interviewed on a local radio program:
"I tell people, especially older people, don’t drink too much, otherwise you fall asleep," she told the host. "So we have to make sure that there is no taboo, it’s not something dirty. And if you do it with humor — not jokes but humor — then people will remember what I have said...I'm a grandmother, and I still talk about sex."
May she continue talking about sex like it is indefinitely. I was lucky enough to interview her several times back in the early days of her radio show about sex – she's smart, funny and especially, she is joyful about sex and about life.
I know she and my friend Len, if he were still with us, would have a delightful time talking and laughing about Viagra together. Dr. Ruth laughs a lot and so did Len.