Seniors Keep Romance Alive

Grandma and grandpa are no longer passively fading into the sunset. These days, seniors are making romance an important part of their lives.

Yes, the elderly are having sex. A new study of sexuality and health among older Americans recently found that more than half of Americans between 57 and 85 are sexually active.

Lead author Dr. Stacy Tessler Lindau, an assistant professor of geriatrics, as well as obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago Medical School, says that sexuality is an essential component of life, no matter what age a person is.

Lindau is astounded at the publicity the study has received, but it was old news to Frank Kaiser, 71, and his wife Carolyn, 66.

"I don't think that's a surprise to a lot of folks," Frank Kaiser told Sunday Morning correspondent Rita Braver. "I think it's a surprise to your kids. They don't walk to talk about it; they don't want to hear it."

Frank Kaiser writes a seniors column for 70 newspapers, and he and his wife co-founded a Web site called "Suddenly Seniors." They are used to hearing from readers discussing sexuality.

Carolyn Kaiser says people often write in complaining that they have difficulty finding a partner at this stage in their lives, which can be difficult for women because they often outlive their husbands.

"I mean, women are interested in long-time companionship," Frank said. "I mean, as one woman said, you know, they're not picky but they're looking for somebody who's going to be a good companion, and hopefully a sex partner."

Like they say, art does have a way of imitating life. On this year's new HBO series "Tell Me You Love Me," romance and sex are not exclusively for the young.

In part, the focus on senior sex has been driven by Viagra and other performance enhancing drugs for men as well as by the Baby Boomer generation.

"People crossing the threshold of 60 don't feel they're old," Lindau said. "Many are still working, they're athletic and they're vital."

But there is also a downside to the senior sexual revolution: an increase in the incidence of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, which makes widows, like 68-year-old Marilyn Reich, a lot more cautious on the dating scene.

"And you think, well, it's not gonna happen at our age, but it does," she said. "So you have to be really aware of what's going on. And I think emotionally you have to be ready for these situations."

The study also found that senior sexuality does diminish with age -
73 percent of adults aged 57 to 64 say they are sexually active. That number drops to 26 percent among those 75 to 85, which is probably to be expected.

There are some ways in which the realities of aging can interfere with desire. Both men and women who rate their health as poor tend to be much less sexually active than seniors who are healthy.

While seniors who are in satisfying relationships say they feel better mentally and physically, right now, the link between sex and health is just a theory:

"I suspect that remaining sexually active, by continuing positive, intimate relationships as one gets older, is good for health," Lindau said. "We don't know empirically yet, whether that's the case."

Nevertheless, couples like the Levines - he's 70 and she's 65 - say, younger people should look forward to a lot of loving.

"I think it gets even deeper, because you approach it a different way," Alan Levine said. "Early on it's almost completely sexual. As you get older in life, and you've raised a family, and they've moved on - the meaning becomes intensified more than ever before at a different level."

For their part, the Kaisers cannot imagine a time when they will not be interested in sex.

"Absolutely, no question," Frank said. "It's extremely important."