LOVE, SEX, AND AGING: A Consumer's Union Report by Edward M. & the Editors of Consumer Reports Books Brecher
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LOVE, SEX, AND AGING: A Consumer's Union Report

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4,245 Consumers Union respondents over 50, by far the largest sample to date, attest to the importance--and variety--of sex in their lives: most notably, impotence and dysfunction are no barrier. Why, for so long, the opposite impression(s)? ""The secret of parental sexuality was in many families successfully kept""; hence the idea of older people ""as still nonsexual."" Also, today's grandparents are ""different from the way they themselves were in their own youth."" The evidence is both statistical and personal: respondents were encouraged to express their feelings, and many did. (Confidence in CU's purposes, and interest in its findings, manifestly played a part--also lessening the bias, common to sex surveys, toward the sexually active.) ""Sometimes we just want to lie together to touch,"" writes the wife in a 50-year marriage. ""We may wake in the night and have sex,"" reports a 73-year-old wife of her new, 74-year-old husband. ""Sometimes now his penis is hardening."" (Hers is one of many tributes to the efficacy of oral sex.) Only one other factor, ease of communication, rivaled pleasure in sex as an index of marital happiness. The unmarried 10 percent of the sample rebut the stereotypes of aging even more markedly--in also rating their enjoyment of life high, calling retirement a bugaboo, and disclaiming loneliness (notwithstanding the male/female imbalance). Sexually, they are not inactive: ""Even in their seventies and beyond, 43 percent of our unmarried women and 54 percent of our unmarried men still masturbate."" (The inactive didn't report frustration.) Changing attitudes toward ""Victorian"" taboos, specifically sampled, were reported in other areas as well--including homosexuality (though many prefer that it not go public). The study's findings are nowhere more noteworthy, however, than in the area of sexual function--and compensations for impaired function. Health problems, individually and en masse, were found to have much less effect than aging per se. (Drawing on CU expertise and very recent research, the authors separately weigh seven factors--heart attack, diabetes, the taking of anti-hypertensive medicine, hysterectomy, ovariectomy, mastectomy, and prostate surgery--and make recommendations.) Estrogen is given a qualified endorsement--depending on the severity of a woman's symptoms of deficiency. Regarding the inexorable effects of aging, readers are reminded that ""a penis may remain limp in the presence of intense desires""--and ""the enjoyment of sex can and sometimes does increase even as the frequency may decrease."" Mutual masturbation, and other substitutes for ""genital performance,"" occupy a chapter. ""I do not know about the experiences of other couples,"" writes a 74-year-old clergyman-witness. ""I am eager to see your report."" What the spotty Starr-Weiner Report essayed with regard to traditional attitudes, this broad and searching study will accomplish.

Pub Date: Jan. 10th, 1983
Publisher: Little, Brown