Published in Pawtucket Times, February 8, 2013
Just after the little blue tablet, Viagra, endorsed on television commercials by a former Senate majority leader and former presidential contender Bob Dole in the late 1990s, the prescription wonder drug for those with erectile dysfunction in later life literally became the talk of the town.
We began to talk a little bit more openly about our sexuality, joking about the miraculous powers of the Viagra, including Cialis and Levitra, probably with the intent to relieve our own personal discomfort of the taboo topic of sex.
But even today, this columnist still hears snickers from those who believe that older persons are asexual, and that sex is of no interest to them in their twilight years. It’s a myth, experts say, their observations supported by a recently published book and a decade worth of AARP studies on sexual attitude and practices.
Creating a New Normal for Your Relationship
Based on data obtained on the internet from nearly 70,000 respondents from the United States and around the world (with significant numbers of returns coming from China, Spain, Italy, France, England, Australia, Philippines, Hungary, Brazil, and Canada), last Wednesday Random House released, The Normal Bar: The Surprising Secrets of Happy Couples and What They Reveal About Creating a New Normal in Your Relationship.
Dr. Pepper Schwartz, Ph.D, Love and Relationship Ambassador for AARP, a Sociologist who teaches at University of Washington, and her coauthors, wellness entrepreneur Chrisanna Northrup and Dr. James Witte, Ph.D., a Sociologist who serves as Director of the Center for Social Science Research at George Mason University, teamed up to design a very unique interactive internet survey that would draw relationship data from around the world.
The researchers partnered with AARP, American on Line, the Huffington Post and Reader’s Digest, who encouraged tens of thousands to take the project’s innovative internet survey.
Dr. Schwartz and her co-researchers, took a look at what constitutes “normal” behavior among happy couples and outlined what steps you should take if that “normal” is one you want to strive for. They believe that their study gives the “clearest picture yet of how well couples are communicating, romancing each other, satisfying each other in the bedroom, sharing financial responsibilities, and staying faithful.”
Since the Normal Bar survey methodology sorts for age and gender, racial and geographic differences and sexual preferences, the authors were able to reveal, for example, what happens to passion as we grow older, which gender wants what when it comes to sex, the factors that spur marital combat, how kids figure in, how being gay or bisexual turns out to be both different and the same, and –regardless of background — the tiny habits that drive partners absolutely batty.
The book provides revelations to the reader, from the unexpected popularity of certain sexual positions, to the average number of times happy – and unhappy — couples kiss, to the prevalence of lying, to the surprising loyalty most men and women feel for their partner (even when in a deteriorating relationship), to the vivid and idiosyncratic ways individuals of different ages, genders and nationalities describe their “ideal romantic evening.”
Much more than a peek behind the relationship curtain, The Normal Bar offers readers an array of prescriptive tools that will help them establish a “new normal” in their relationships. Mindful of what keeps couples stuck in ruts, the book’s authors suggest practical and life-changing ways for couples to break cycles of disappointment and frustration.
AARP Article Zeros in On Older Couples
The Normal bar survey findings in this recently released book, drawn from responses of 8,000 survey respondents who are over age 50, were published in the February/March issue of AARP The Magazine in an article, penned by Northrup, Drs. Schwartz and Witte, entitled Sex at 50+: What’s Normal? Among the findings reported in this AARP article:
Thirty two percent of men and 48% of woman do not hug their partner in public. The researchers believe that public displays of affection (PDA) positive impact relationships. Sixty eight percent now showing PDA are unhappy or slightly happy with their partner. A whopping 73% of the happiest couples can’t keep their hands off each other in public and do so at least once a month.
Meanwhile, 78% of the couples admit they hold hands at least some of the time. However it seems to be the younger pairs, because among all the couples who have been together for over 10 years, more than half say they no longer hold hands.
“I love you,” just three little words said often may just spice up your relationship. The researchers found that among the happiest couples, 85% of both men and woman said those words at least once a week. It’s a male thing – more than 90% of men tell their partner “I love you” regularly while only 58% of the woman do so.
The researchers found that 74% of the happiest couples will give their partner a passionate smooch. Thirty-eight percent of all age 50 plus couples do not passionately kiss. Kissing can be the connector between each partner, note the researchers.
Thirty-one percent of the aging baby boomer couples have sex several times a week while only 28% have sex a couple of times a month. Around 8% have sex just one time a month.
Forty-seven percent of woman praise their partner’s appearance regularly in comparison to 55% of men. The study’s findings reveal that praise is important for a couple’s happiness.
Thirty-two percent of the couples give a thumbs down to date nights. Eighty-eight percent of the happiest couples spend time alone together. The researchers recommend that you go out twice a month to “maintain the sense of closeness.”
Thirty-three percent of the respondents report they rarely or never have sex. However, even among the happiest couples, a whopping one-fourth don’t do it.
Dr. Schwartz believes that the most important observation made from the study is that sexuality is important throughout one’s lifespan. “People have to take care of their relationship and not put it on automatic pilot,” she says.
Bringing Sexuality Out of the Closet
With the graying of America’s population, it is now time to bring senior sexuality out of the closet. We must accept the fact that sexuality continues throughout the human life-span, and encompasses more than just intimate sexual intercourse. It also includes cuddling, a tender kiss, a light touch on the shoulder, or holding hands, as noted in The Normal Bar.
A well-known song, “As Time Goes By,” reminds us sexuality is to be experienced by both young and old. “You must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh, the fundamental things apply, as time goes by.”
For more info about The Normal Bar, to take the Normal Bar survey or to purchase the book, go to http://www.thenormalbar.com.
Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at email@example.com.