Getting Older, Getting Better

An old joke asks, What's the best form of birth control in later adult life? The answer: nudity.

So goes the cultural stereotype of sex after, say, 45. What it hinges on, says David Schnarch, is sheer misunderstanding--"the piece-of-meat model of sexual intimacy" most people practice.

It equates physical contact, and anatomy, with sex. And it is undoubtedly related to sex-text claims that males reach their sexual prime in late adolescence while women reach theirs several years later.

But sex manuals don't tell what Schnarch has discovered in over 20 years as a sex therapist--we reach genital prime and sexual prime at vastly different ages. Most people don't reach their sexual prime until their 40s and 50s. "Sexual intensity is more a function of emotional maturation than of physiological responsiveness."

Great sex requires real intimacy--the process of being in touch with oneself in the presence of a partner. Older people have learned more about themselves, so they bring more self to the party.

"The later adult years are when the most important exploration of sexual potential occurs," Schnarch reports. Younger women struggle to balance displays of eroticism with fears of looking cheap. Younger men are "threatened by a self-motivated and sexually knowledgeable partner."

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The spectre of the gray-haired having what Schnarch calls "wall-socket sex" can provoke anxiety, especially to their grown-up children. "While some adults accept that their parents still copulate, it is quite another matter to picture one's mother with her heels in the air screaming 'Oh God, oh God!'" Amen.

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