Contrary to popular belief, it doesn't all shrivel up and fall off after fifty. However, there are some considerations if you plan on getting horizontal.
Allen (not his real name) is in his late sixties. A Minnesota native, he had spent the last thirty years in Scottsdale, AZ. As he aged, he missed family, the many lakes of his youth (not the skeeters, though) and the rich, colorful forests. It was time, he decided. Phoenix had become far too hot, too crowded.
After years of living in a thriving, youthful burb chock-full of active seniors like himself, he had a tight community of hikers, fellow cyclists and gym rats who all loved being active. A tall, energetic and attractive man, Allen and I had connected some years ago while I was still on Match. We lived too far apart to date, but not too far apart to make friends. We're both ex-military and our values align in many ways. However I will never live in a desert, and I am done with deep snow.
Such decisions, especially made in our final decades, are indeed rather final. We don't have the luxury of starting over that many more times. Besides, when you reach a certain point, what draws you, just as the damp green forests of Oregon drew me, speaks to something far more deep and elemental than moving for a job. At this point, we are moving to be fully inside ourselves in a wholly different way.
Allen was a skier, and he missed being close to Canada's fine powder. So, he moved. And in the process, left that community of active folks behind.
He and I both made our big cross-country moves under quarantine. Last night we caught up again, as we tend to do, and we were discussing our relative love-lives. Or rather, the lack thereof.
Allen is athletic, energetic and engaged in life, well and fully. As a result, he's quite the catch for the lonely old biddies who bide their time, clicking "LIKE" on every single likely guy who attracts their interest. This was driving him nuts.
"Not a single one of ANY of these women who like my profile does anything I do," Allen complained. "A lot of them might show a photo of themselves on a bike path but when you explore that, turns out they don't ride any more, or only tool around the close-in blocks.
"I want someone who can cycle forty miles a day on an international trip," he said.
I know precisely what he means.
Allen's not looking for young chickie meat. He likes experience, brains, opinions, ideas, lives lived in full. He's not finding that in a package where the athletics also serve what sits atop the brain stem.
I smiled as I listened to him, remembering all the silly "likes" I got on my favorite Bright Red Dress photo from men who haven't seen the inside of a gym since they were playing football in junior high. My profile was exceedingly explicit.
It said, in effect, "If you're not athletic, move on. If you don't take your workouts seriously, your health seriously, if you drink or smoke, move on. I am not your match."
Most men ignored that. They wanted what they saw, just as these chair-bound old ladies wanted Allen. A bright, attractive, athletic and well-educated man in his late sixties full of vim and vigor.
Unfortunately, too often this means that what they really want is someone healthy enough to be their caretaker.
Or the guys attacked me heatedly, as if I had no right whatsoever to demand that a partner of mine be in some kind of shape. Go spit, Sparky.
Allen's a very social guy, and he's lonely. He wants physical company. A lifetime of exercise supports healthy bodies and healthy sex very late in life, and why not? We don't lose our sex drive as we get older due to age. More likely, it gets lost to bad habits, medication and lack of interest in life itself.
But sex late in life isn't that easy. Ask anyone who is single and looking after sixty. You thought it was hard in your twenties, thirties and beyond?
Wait a while.
Allen and I have both been on Match for a while. As Medium writer Shani Silver writes regularly, the online dating apps have no interest in making sure you find that elusive love.
Dating after sixty is a whole other experience, made vastly more complex by those choices we have made over a lifetime. Those who chose the work to remain healthy really prefer those who share those values. Like Allen, I too would like someone who can at least keep up for part of the way.
But that's not all.
Allen found someone who caught his interest, even as she might not have been much of an athlete. When they had dated enough to consider becoming intimate, they had The Talk.
I'm not sure why THE TALK has to be such a huge thing, except that there are so many utterly irresponsible people who are dishonest, and that dishonesty has led us to where we are today. STDs are on the rapid rise among the young and old.
In this case, the woman, in a show of good faith and honesty, revealed that she treats herself for genital herpes. Allen, who is clean as a whistle, backed away at speed. I can understand this, but there's a cost.
He remains frustrated and lonely. And I would bet you that the woman in question is deeply hurt by the rejection, after being honest and responsible, as so many aren’t.
Part of that is being older, as we both are. Part of this is also being athletic at a time when the majority of our peers don't share the same enthusiasm for physical challenges. And another part of it, perhaps, is how society's thinking about sex can cripple us later in life in ways we hadn't anticipated.
This got me thinking. Those of us now in our late sixties and beyond were all in some way part of the sexual revolution at the time. Certainly a percentage of folks got through that unscathed. I didn't. Since I didn't marry until I was forty, and even that was very brief, I had my fair share of men who stepped out on me and stepped back in carrying baggage that I didn't exactly solicit.
That didn't make me dirty, evil or bad. That did mean that I trusted fundamentally dishonest men who couldn't keep their penises sheathed, or even have the common decency to wear a condom when stepping out on the girlfriend. Bet you can relate.
I didn't sign up for that, nor should anyone else like me be blamed or sanctioned for someone else's irresponsible actions forty years ago. Or whatever. If you and I live long enough we are likely going to be entering our late years with something we most certainly didn't want. While that may not be an STD, none of us should be surprised that this generation in particular opened the floodgates to the some of the consequences of sexual freedom.
And while I'm not saying this is how Allen thinks or feels (I can't know this), I do hear a great deal of judgment among some of my peers for those who ended up with something like herpes, which is a lifetime hitch-hiker in the spine, as though they brought it upon themselves.
The shame we heap on sex in our society to begin with is both evil and ignorant. Far too many of us continue to be informed by very old mores and values loaded upon us by our predecessors, who often saw sex as dirty and evil. And god help us, should we get an STD of some kind, that simply proved that we were depraved and evil. The STD was the punishment for our unwashed self.
Even the best and brightest of all people can catch crabs or wake up one day with a monumentally awful red sore in the unmentionables. Hell, Magic Johnson's unsheathed Johnson famously got him HIV.
Most are treatable. Scratch that. All are treatable, at the very least manageable. Herpes may be forever, but for the vast majority it falls into the category of mildly inconvenient, even though the literature around it can scare the crap out of those who aren't dealing with it.
The message is here: GET TESTED. Know the state of your health first, and if you pose any kind of a risk to anyone else. If so, what are the safest steps you can take to ensure your health as well as anyone else who wants to roll around with you. That is the least you can do for yourself.
The way I see it, and this is a very private journey for all of us, those of us entering our late years have important choices. On one end of the bell curve are the aging hippies whose apparent need to relive their "summer of free love" means to do so without protection, at a time of life when adding another disease or problematic infection is genuinely dangerous.
It's breathtaking to me that men past sixty (past fifteen, thank you) still can't be bothered to cover up.
Lots of reasons not to party down that way, Sparky. I'm not saying don't party, I am saying bring a damned raincoat for Mr. Happy. Above all, if your partner, whoever that partner is, demands that you wear protection, don't you DARE make an argument out of it. GTFU already.
To that, this is a readable and actionable article that does a nice job of outlining what you and I might want to consider before giving consent:
Age doesn't give us the "let's forget the condom" card. And being old is no excuse to say that you just didn't know.
From the article:
More than 60% of individuals over 60 have sex at least once a month, and yet they are rarely considered to be at risk of an STD. Furthermore, even those older adults who are no longer sexually active may still have a sexually transmitted infection for which they were never treated or screened, and the long-term neurological side effects of diseases such as HIV and syphilis may be easily mistaken for other diseases of aging. (author bolded)
On top of this HIV is growing fast in the over-fifty cohort. I can't speak for you, but while I love(d) sex, it's not worth a few minutes' romp to be ill for the rest of my life. Too many doctors don't even hold forth the possibility that older folks still have sex, and they don't actively engage their clients in frank and terribly important conversations other than, perhaps, how to deal with erectile dysfunction.
On the other end of that bell curve are those who have dodged that bowling ball all their lives, and have made it to their final decades unscathed. That is likely rare, like my friend Allen. Not only is it rare he's in that kind of shape, but to have gotten to 68 without picking up a nasty bug along the way is amazing.
That group would likely include widowed women who married young, never strayed and are finding themselves in the dating mix very late in life. They might also find themselves out of their depth when it comes to sexual knowledge and know-how. If you haven't had sex-ed yet, it's time. You never age out of learning responsible sexual conduct.
To romp or not to romp? I say go for it. But understand that there are risks, there are huge responsibilities, perhaps even more important past sixty than ever, as our aging bodies may well have weaknesses or vulnerabilities that an infection would capitalize on.
I would also suggest that we withhold judgment of those who, for whatever reason, rape or bad judgment or a cheating loveer/spouse, ended up with a bug for life. We needn't punish them or hold them in contempt. After sixty, part of wisdom is understanding that life extracts a price, youth's inhibitions and mistakes have long-term consequences. We can understand, make room for and properly prepare for intimacy later in life without casting blame or judgment on those who didn't dodge the bullet.
Having sex has consequences. So does not having sex. As well, intimacy wears eight billion different faces. If we choose to walk that path with someone, honoring our bodies and theirs with the respect and care they deserve is part of what aging vibrantly and wisely is all about.