Grace and Frankie Sexuality and Aging

I just finished watching the second season of Grace and Frankie, the Netflix produced series about two women who find out that their husbands are not just law firm partners, but also have been lovers for the past 20 years. The series starts out with the husbands telling their wives that they want a divorce, so they can get married “since it is legal now.” Perhaps the thing I like best about the show is that the husbands and wives are in their 70’s and they are all shown as sexual beings, a rarity in American culture.

In one of my first classes in the Sex Therapy Certification Program at U of M we were exposed to all kinds of “taboo” sexual topics and “sex among the elderly” was included in that unit. One video showed young 20 something’s participating in an on the street interview. The question: “What age do you think people stop being sexual?” The answers from these young people ranged from as early as 35 to not much more that 45 in general. Our concept of “old,” it seems is always 15 years older than our current age.

We also compiled a collage of pictures from popular men’s and women’s health and sports magazines depicting the traits considered “sexy” in our culture and it was no surprise to discover “sexy” was depicted as very young, and very thin in these magazines. No wonder we have body issues!

A study* conducted in Israel in 2010 validates the idea that we can be sexual throughout our lifespan. A convenience sample of 127 women at a menopause health clinic in Israel found a significant positive correlation between sexual satisfaction and the level of current sexual activity, and also between sexual satisfaction and life satisfaction. The study also found that sometimes menopausal women’s activities were limited because of physical limitations, but there was no real correlation between the number of sexual activities and age.

The older women in the study were interested in continuing their sexual activities. These women deemed communication with their partner a priority and they had a desire for more sexual variety. Women who were sexually active in the past, were more likely to be sexually active in the present and to experience a higher quality of life satisfaction.

Older adults can continue to be sexual, they can adapt to physical limitations like joint mobility and lower muscle strength and continue to see themselves as active and healthy. A sex therapist can provide value to aging individuals and couples, helping them increase their communication skills, while giving them information, suggestions, permission and encouragement, allowing them to expand intimacy and their range of sexual experiences and satisfaction.

I applaud the writers of Grace and Frankie for presenting sex positive roles for the aging! No spoilers here, but viewers might learn a thing or two watching this well done series! Or you could make an appointment with me at The Center for Relationship and Sexual Health to create more intimacy and satisfaction in your life!

*Sexual Activities, Sexual and Life Satisfaction, and Successful Aging in Women Woloski-Wruble AC, Oliel Y. Leeffsma M, and Hochner-Celnikier, D. J Sex Med 2010;7;2401-2410.

Paula Kirsch, LMSW