The Heart Has No Wrinkles

“American seniors are living well into their eighties today and many of us are still self-sufficient and very much interested in sustaining sexual activity. It’s time for everyone to accept that, if they’re lucky, they too will be old someday. And if they make it, most will want to have some form of sexual expression.” Betty Dodson, PhD, Forward to: Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex, by Joan Price.

Let’s face it: the current state of sex education in the United States is abysmal. With the exception of Planned Parenthood’s outreach efforts to local schools (which is not available in every state or even state-wide in Oregon) and the Our Whole Lives (OWLS) programs offered through Unitarian Universalist and United Church of Christ churches, we do not provide teenagers much accurate, non-judgmental and useful information. Most sex education programs emphasize disease and pregnancy prevention, leaving out critically important topics such as communication, consent, boundaries, respect, self-acceptance, body image/body awareness and pleasure. And programs that emphasize abstinence only aren’t even in the reality ballpark.

According to Marty Klein, PhD, in his book, Sexual Intelligence: What we Really Want from Sex and How to Get it, “[m]ost school sex education programs in the United States are not allowed to use the words clitoris or pleasure,” and instead focus on disease and pregnancy prevention. Is it any wonder that by the time people reach their 20’s, sex is for many confusing, intimidating—and a subject about which they cannot comfortable speak? Add an overlay of cultural shame, mythology and inaccurate information it is easy to see why sex is such a messy subject.

For those of us who are 50 and over, the situation is even worse. We arrive at this age with a whole lot of cultural baggage about sex then find ourselves in bodies that are changing—sometimes dramatically. With very little exception, getting accurate information about sexuality and aging is challenging at best. Many health care providers don’t bring up sex with patients either because they make an ageist assumption that their patient is too old to be sexual or they are uncomfortable talking about sex. Patients often don’t bring up sex in medical visits out of embarrassment—thus both provider and patient miss an opportunity to talk about important health care issues. And truthfully, most health care providers simply are not conversant with sexual matters, unless they are also versed in sexology. With one notable exception, there are no programs that provide sex education to people over 50!

Fortunately, Planned Parenthood of Southwest Oregon has stepped up and is repeating its six week class: “The Heart Has No Wrinkles: Sexuality and Intimacy in the Later Years.” The class is consecutive Wednesday evenings, from Wednesday, March 30-May 4, 2016 from 5:30-7:00 p.m. Classes are being held at Planned Parenthood in Glenwood, 3579 Franklin Blvd. The cost of the class is amazingly low: $50 for 9 instruction hours. I’ll be teaching two of the six classes: “Talking Out Loud: Communication and Sex,” and “Experiencing Pleasure in an Aging Body.” To register, call Joanne Alba, (541) 344-1611 x 1014.

We are sexual beings from the moment of conception until the moment we die yet our culture pretty much either ignores or ridicules aging sexuality. If you are over 50 and seeking accurate, fact-based, non-judgmental information about sexuality and aging, please join us at Planned Parenthood for “The Heart Has No Wrinkles.”