sexuality

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Some 70-Something Women Having ‘Best Sex Ever’? Really? (Yes.)

(Jennie Ivins/Flickr Creative Commons)

A vintage Fisher Price “grandmother lady.” (Jennie Ivins/Flickr Creative Commons)

By Dr. Aline Zoldbrod
Guest contributor

Imagine you’re a stereotypical “old lady,” with a lined face and gray hair, walking down the street. Some young guy looks at you and thinks, “How ya doing, grandma, you old coot? Are you wearing your Depends?” Actually, no, you think, you’re wearing nice underwear because you’re going to meet your beloved to see a movie, then go home and have some really delicious sex, replete with leisurely foreplay and plenty of laughter. You pass a juicy 38-year-old walking down the street with her two little kids in tow, and think, “Poor dear. She won’t have really good sex again for a good 20 years.”

This is not tabloid fantasy: “Sexually Active Septuagenarian!” It is possible. Not for everyone — but for a substantial minority, perhaps a fifth of women or more. And I’ll tell you why, based on research and my experience as a sex and couples therapist — but first, what gives? Why are we suddenly talking about this squirmy topic?

It’s because author Iris Krasnow has a new book out, “Sex After…,” subtitled “Women Share How Intimacy Changes As Life Changes.” And it includes women in their 70s and beyond who are having a glorious time, sexually. Some have partners; others have just discovered the joys of solo sex; some are having their first orgasms ever, thank to vibrators and toys now available for anyone to order online.

People have an ‘ick’ reaction to thinking that their parents are being sexual, let alone their grandparents.

Krasnow writes about the 77-year-old who “was inspired to try fellatio for the first time after watching a how-to video on YouTube.” And she shares the story of another woman in her 70s, a recent widow, who met up with a male friend she had not seen for 54 years and who went to bed with him on the first date, staying in bed having sex with him for five hours.

I’m thinking that this book excerpt is going to blow a lot of people’s minds. Even the “Granny Porn” websites have women who are ages 40 to 50. Women in their 70s?? Most of what you’ll find if you look up “sex over fifty” online talks about frail vaginal tissue, lack of lubrication and flagging erections. Those accounts are accurate but psychologically conservative.

In contrast, the denizens of Krasnow’s research don’t talk about any of the physical barriers to erotic pleasures. This is a group of women who are sexual explorers, women who want to have as much sexual pleasure as they can. They are what psychologist Dr. Abraham Maslow would probably call “sexually self-actualized.”

Krasnow’s findings, while based on a very small sample of older women, actually fit with academic research on the sex lives of older people. Surveys repeatedly find that there is a cohort of men and women, ranging in age from their 60s to their 80s and above, who are having active, enjoyable, single or partnered sex lives. They tend to be healthy and active people, and their attitude about what it is to have a sexual relationship and to be a sexual human being has flexed with age, so that standards are less perfectionistic and performance driven, and the physical changes of aging can be taken in stride.

There is a cultural stigma associated with talking about the sex lives of the elderly. People have an “ick” reaction to thinking that their parents are being sexual, let alone their grandparents. But times have changed. Continue reading

Why A Sex Therapist Worries About Teens Viewing Internet Porn

(Photo: Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

(Photo: WBUR)

Editor’s note: This post contains explicit sexual descriptions.

By Dr. Aline Zoldbrod
Guest contributor

Bill sits in my office, his head in his hands.

“I’m at the age where a lot of my friends are getting married. But I can’t even get up the courage to date. I’m 26, and I’ve got a good job, but I feel like a total freak. My life is stalled. I’m getting more and more isolated and depressed. I just can’t seem to maintain any sexual interest in girls. Hell, I can’t maintain that much interest in a girl in any way. I can’t get turned on. I can’t get an erection. And I’m getting too paranoid to ask any girl out on a date. What if she tells her friends that I can’t perform?”

It turns out that Bill has been watching Internet porn since he was 13. There was not a lot of love or supervision in his family. His dad drank, and his mom was overwhelmed with the stress of taking care of the kids and being the wife of an alcoholic.

For a long time, he masturbated to the porn. In the last few years, he has found himself just watching the porn for hours on end, just clicking his mouse like a zombie, trying new scene after new scene to get enough of a hit to stay aroused, but not even masturbating. Besides work and eating, all he does is stay glued to the screen.

You may have seen the recent film Don Jon, featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Jon, an Internet porn addict whose habit hurts his love life. I see too many Jons in my office — men like Bill.

I can think of plenty of good uses for pornography. I’ve seen it help some of my patients, enrich their lives. And I know that in writing this piece, I’m stepping into a hornet’s nest. Pornography is a very loaded topic, a value-laden one. Many colleagues who are sexologists don’t agree with me, nor do champions of free speech.

From "Don Jon" (Youtube)

From “Don Jon” (YouTube)

But I see a sexual and relational train wreck happening, and I need to speak out. Parents and policy-makers, beware: Something very bad is happening out there with teenagers and pornography. Internet porn has the potential to change some adolescents’ sexual development in a very damaging way: It can ruin or hinder their ability to form sexual relationships.

Here’s the thing: When sex is good, it’s a wonderful part of life. I would hope that even the most conservative among us would wish that when our children grow up, they could have pleasurable sex with a beloved partner.

But if the current trend with teenagers and porn continues, there is going to be a new generation of adults who lost an important step in their sexual development and who have trouble, as young adults and later in life, integrating emotional attachment and love with sexual expression and sexual pleasure. Masters and Johnson did not call sex “the pleasure bond” for nothing.

Dr. Aline Zoldbrod

Dr. Aline Zoldbrod

This is not a new issue. The 60s and 70s saw sexploitation and snuff films, and porn has been traded on the Internet since the 1980s. But films and early porn cost money. Beginning in the 1990s, the amount of free porn exploded; the types of porn available online became ever darker and more insidious; teenagers began accessing it; and now we’re seeing the daunting results.

Recently, a new documentary has come out that illustrates the negative effects that pornography can have on teenage boys. I urge you to watch it here.

Continue reading

More Than Mojo: ‘Natural’ Sex Pills May Contain Viagra Or Worse

(Source: FDA)

(Source: FDA)

The patient was not complaining, by any means. He’d just started a new “natural” sex enhancement supplement, and he reported that it was working terrifically.

But Dr. Pieter Cohen’s astute resident at the Somerville Hospital primary care clinic, Dr. Rachael Bedard, had her suspicions, and she brought the patient to his attention. Dr. Cohen, a general internist at Cambridge Health Alliance and a frequent medical mythbuster, sent the pill out to be tested.

“The lab not only found Viagra in it,” he recalled. “They also found Cialis, another erectile dysfunction drug, as well as a brand new designer drug, as well as caffeine.” So in all, “You’ve got two prescription drugs that we would never prescribe together, a brand new drug, and caffeine, all in one pill. And that’s what our patient was consuming when he thought he was taking a natural sex enhancer.” In fact, the supplement, Sex Plus, was “chock full of pharmaceuticals that had nothing to do with nature.”

Dr. Bedard sent the findings to the FDA, which did its own testing and ended up issuing this alert late last month. And Dr. Cohen has just co-authored a paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine — “Adulterated Sexual Enhancement Supplements,” subtitled “More Than Mojo” — spreading the word that sex-enhancement supplements advertised as natural may in fact be nothing of the kind. And they may contain brand new designer erectile-dysfunction drugs whose potential dangers are anyone’s guess.

His bottom line: “If you want a natural sex enhancer, talk to your doctor about prescription ‘yohimbe,’ but it may have side effects and it’s not very effective. Still, if you want to avoid Viagra, that’s the way to go. When it comes to any supplement sold for sexual enhancement, it should be avoided because it’s either going to be useless or potentially harmful.”

What might be the danger of, say, the drug that Somerville patient was taking? Continue reading

Does Sex Reassignment Surgery Really Boost Mental Health?

Michelle L. Kosilek, pictured in this Jan. 15, 1993 file photo, is a transgender inmate serving life in prison for murder. U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf ruled in Sept. 2012 that sex-reassignment surgery is the only adequate treatment for Kosilek’s gender-identity disorder, which he found was a “serious medical need.” Kosilek was named Robert when married to Cheryl Kosilek. He was convicted of killing her in 1990. (Lisa Bul/AP, file)

Read Judy Foreman’s thoughtful piece on Cognescenti this morning about the research behind sex reassignment surgery and whether it truly improves a patient’s overall mental health (bottom line: not so much). Foreman concludes that “the surgery eases deep unhappiness with one’s biological sex. But it doesn’t seem to help much with other mental health issues, including suicidality.”

Foreman reports that Ben Klein, senior attorney for Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, views the surgery in a more positive light:

“All studies have limitations,” he told me, “but if you look at the overwhelming trend of a significant number of studies, all point to the same conclusion – that sex reassignment surgery is the only effective treatment for gender identity disorder.”

But I’m not buying that — pooling a bunch of bad studies doesn’t yield good data.

Continue reading

Are Romance Novels Bad For Your Health?


The scorn among tweeters is already mounting, as word spreads that a new journal article suggests that romance novels are unhealthy: “Come on!” “Really.” “Puh-leeze.”

But I don’t care. I don’t know about my health, but I have no doubt that romance novels were hideously bad for my psyche when I read them as a teenager. I remember emerging from “Sweet Savage Love,” staring into the mirror and grieving the fact that I would never, ever look anything like the exquisite heroine with her long auburn locks and green gypsy eyes. And the sex scenes! It takes decades to get over the false ideas conveyed, the effortless simultaneous orgasms and uncontrollable passions…

So I’m happy to pass along the article that’s raising the Twitter hubbub: It’s here in the “Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care,” under the title ““He seized her in his manly arms and bent his lips to hers…’. The surprising impact that romantic novels have on our work.” It describes the typical fare of romance novels, including the “beautiful but passive virgins whose sexual desire was awakened by their perfectly-choreographed seduction at the hands of a highly-skilled alpha male.” Then it warns:

Clearly, these messages run totally counter to those we try to promote. We don’t condone non-consensual sex. We want women to be aware of their own desires rather than be ‘awakened’. We aim to reassure our female clients that their first time may not be utterly joyful and that they may not gain reliable orgasms through penetration, but that they themselves are none the less existentially valid and that with affection and good humour things can improve immensely. We warn of the stresses of pregnancy and child-rearing, and we discourage relentless baby-making as proof of a relationship’s strength. Above all, we teach that sex may be wonderful and relationships loving, but neither are ever perfect and that idealising them is the short way to heartbreak. But are our lessons falling on deaf ears when compared to the values of the Regency heroine gazing adoringly across the Assembly Rooms to catch a glimpse of her man?

There’s a final, worrying difference between sexual health professionals and the producers of romantic fiction. To be blunt, we like condoms – for protection and for contraception – and they don’t. In one recent survey, only 11.5% of romantic novels studied mentioned condom use, and within these scenarios the heroine typically rejected the idea because she wanted ‘no barrier’ between her and the hero. Even more worryingly, while the romance readers interviewed said that they knew that such episodes were fiction, and that spontaneous sexual encounters are never risk-free, nevertheless there was a clear correlation between the frequency of romance reading and the level of negative attitude towards condoms and the intention to use them in the future. Continue reading

‘Orgasm Inc.’ Local Premiere: The Sinister Quest For The Pink Viagra

“Thank you for coming,” the filmmaker told the Coolidge Corner Theatre capacity crowd at her local premiere last night — and then waited for the audience to get the joke.

I confess, I didn’t, at first. And then I had a “Duh!” moment. At a film about female sexuality, “Thank you for coming,” is actually a laugh line. And there were others: The gallant questioner who introduced himself at the audience microphone and told filmmaker Liz Canner that he was “at your cervix.” The panel member who invited the audience to check out the “cliterature” on tables outside.

But the topic of “Orgasm, Inc.,” is serious — feminist-serious — even though the film itself was great fun to watch. It amounts to an indictment of the pharmaceutical industry’s attempts to develop a “female Viagra” and persuade the American public that 43% of women suffer from a previously unrecognized syndrome called “Female Sexual Dysfunction.”

The film is already sparking debate, including this Radio Boston segment this week and the online comments that followed it. The Boston Globe magazine ran a “Perspective” piece last Sunday that included this:

Orgasm Inc., which premieres locally at the Coolidge Corner Theatre on Thursday, is already being hailed as a sort of modern feminist manifesto, and indeed the film is a much-needed denunciation of the designer vagina era, which brought women everything from “vajazzling” to labiaplasty. But the film’s suggestion that sexual difficulty is “all in our heads” – and that women are particularly susceptible to buying the lies that Big Pharma is selling – strikes me as limiting at best, vaguely antifeminist at worst.

Many doctors specializing in female sexuality argue that women are indeed candidates for FSD drugs. “The pharmaceutical industry did not create distressing sexual problems for women,” says Dr. Jan Shifren, director of the Vincent Menopause Program at Massachusetts General Hospital. She says the percentage of women who experience such difficulties hovers around 12. Not Big Pharma’s 43, but not insignificant, either. “That doesn’t mean we need to treat women exclusively with pills,” she adds. “The answer is somewhere in between.”

Liz Canner responded last night that though the Globe piece did not note it, Dr. Shifren had run clinical trials for one of the major recent attempts to develop a female-sexuality treatment, Proctor and Gamble’s testosterone patch Intrinsa.

Also present on the post-screening panel was Judy Norsigian of “Our Bodies Ourselves” fame (note to fans: the next edition is scheduled to come out soon.) And Dr. Susan Bennett, Liz Canner’s doctor and the teacher of a human sexuality course at Harvard, who noted that female sexuality “is a tremendous sinkhole of ignorance for the vast majority of women throughout the world.” Her bottom line: “To develop a medication for something that really isn’t a disease is just wrong.”

I walked out wondering, though. Is that really true? Can medicine only fix diseases, or may it also enhance lives? What about all the men who’ve been thrilled by the effects of Viagra? Certainly, persuading women that they’re abnormal in order to make a buck is, as Susan Bennett put it, “just wrong.” And certainly, sex is about a whole lot more than physiology. But if there really were a female equivalent of Viagra — which, at this point in drug development, there most certainly is not — would it really be so bad?

Orgasm Inc. is now playing at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline.

Daily Rounds: Dems Deride Health Reform; Local Health Billboards; Diet Drugs Challenged; ‘Prehomosexual?’

Democrats spend on anti-health-reform advertisements “Since the beginning of Congress’s August recess, Democratic candidates have poured $930,000 into ads deriding the health overhaul but just $300,000 in pro-reform spots, according to Evan Tracey at Kantar Media.” (The Politico)

City signs on to help bridge gaps to healthier neighborhoods – The Boston Globe “On three dozen roadway billboards and almost a score of T placards, some of the most defining digits in our lives — ZIP codes — started sprouting this week. The message, scheduled to be formally unveiled today, is subtle but powerful: Where you live matters when it comes to health.” (Boston Globe)

Diet Drug From Arena Rejected by F.D.A. Panel – NYTimes.com “The negative vote is the second setback this year in attempts to win approval for what would be the first new prescription weight-loss drug in more than a decade.”
(The New York Times)

Bering in Mind: Is your child a “prehomosexual”? Forecasting adult sexual orientation In an unusually provocative piece for Scientific American, a psychologist rounds up recent research and mixes it with his personal experience. (scientificamerican.com)