Sadly, one of the cornerstones of my so-called misspent childhood, was watching a television show called the Brady Bunch. To the uninitiated, the Brady Bunch was an American situation comedy, based around two families, the wife and three daughters and the husband with three sons and, as the title song goes “they knew it was much more than a hunch, that this group must somehow form a family and that’s the way they all became the Brady Bunch.”
I can’t believe I still remember that. Damn.
It was corny and goofy and lame but somehow endearing. The Brady Bunch were a group of people who portrayed themselves as the almost perfect family, loving towards each other, supportive and helpful, always finding a way out of a tight spot, all the while looked after by a doting housekeeper. It’s not that you ever wanted to be the Brady Bunch but they were a safe pair of hands in the Department of Entertaining Distractions.
The matriarch of the family was Carol Brady, attractive in that homespun kind of way, always cheerful and happy. Played perfectly by actress Florence Henderson. So you can imagine my shock, but certainly not horror, when I read that Carol Brady, gasp, enjoys S-E-X. She sure does, according to a magazine recently published in the United States. Not only does she enjoy sex, Carol Brady, aka Florence Henderson, now aged 80, has a friend with benefits. Henderson told the magazine, Closer, that she has gotten considerably better at sex as she’s got older and that it’s a complete myth that people her age aren’t having sex.
And the shocks, they just keep coming.
Henderson said she had one main sexual partner but that they were not exclusive to each other. “He lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and is a chiropractor,” she said. “I really enjoy his company, but I am sure he sees other people, as I do. “(Sex) keeps getting better. You learn to do things with more experience, intelligence and the ability to choose more wisely,” she said. “I like to date younger men [in their 60s] because they need to keep up with me.”
Oh my God. Squeaky-clean Carol Brady, say it isn’t so? Hah. Too late he cried. She’s already said, it’s not only so, it’s so, so good.
These days Florence Henderson, who incidentally looks great for her age, hosts her own television cooking show in between hosting lovers it seems. But that got me thinking? Should we be disgusted by this revelation? Or should Florence Henderson be applauded for continuing to embrace life and all of the joys that go with it? It doesn’t disgust me but then I’m not far off being old enough to be one of her ‘toy boys’. What a thought? But the reality is age is not much of a barrier when it comes to the elderly having and enjoying intimacy. Some years ago, the first detailed examination of the sexuality of older Americans was published. Although the study relates to older Americans it would apply to older people all over the world. It was a nationally represented survey of 3 thousand Americans, men and women, aged between 57 and 85. It found that half to three quarters of those surveyed, remain sexually active, with a significant proportion engaging in ‘frequent and varied sexual behavior.’ The survey found that sexual problems do increase with age and the rate of sexual activity does fade a little but interest in sex remains high and frequency is stable among the physically able who are still lucky enough to have a willing partner. It also torpedoed one of the great myths that constantly circulates among the younger generation irrespective of what era they live or lived in. “There’s a popular perception that older people aren’t as interested in sex as younger people,” said Stacy Tessler Lindau of the University of Chicago, who led the study, that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. “Our study shows that’s simply not true.”
In fact it found that older people value sexuality as an important part of life. The study paints a portrait for older people, that includes a previously uncharacterized vitality and interest in sexuality and one that has not been fully appreciated. The survey found a close link between sex and health, with healthier people reporting the highest rates of sexual activity. In addition to supporting the well-known idea that illness can interfere with a sex life, the survey suggests that a healthy sex life may itself help keep people vibrant. “Individuals who remain sexually active gain the benefit of the physical exercise that comes with sex,” Lindau said. “It’s also possible the hormones — the endorphins released by orgasms — give a general sense of well-being that could be beneficial. The psychological benefits of being loved and cared for may also trickle over to physical health.”
What makes this kind of study so unique and different is the fact that despite the intense focus on sex in popular culture, political sensitivities have severely limited funding for reliable, detailed studies of sexual activity among Americans of any age. Smaller, more limited studies have provided glimpses into the sex lives of the elderly, but no one had previously attempted an in-depth, nationally representative survey among this rapidly growing segment of the population. “We just don’t know very much about sexuality in the later years,” said Robert N. Butler, president of the International Longevity Center in New York, a nonprofit think tank. “There’s been a tremendous amount of resistance to such studies. That’s what makes this so terrific.”
In their the study, researchers conducted face-to-face interviews with a randomly selected sample of 3,005 Americans from July 2005 to March 2006. “We found people to be grateful to have an opportunity to discuss these issues,” said Lindau, noting that researchers achieved an unusually high 75 percent response rate from those they approached. “The topics we were asking about resonated with people. Many said they had never had a chance to talk to anyone about these issues, not even a spouse or their physicians.” About 28 percent of men and about 14 percent of women said sex was very important, and about three-quarters of those with partners reported being sexually active, which is about equivalent to what previous research had found for people in their 40s and 50s. Being sexually active was defined as having had mutual voluntary sexual contact with another person within the past 12 months. “Our findings indicate that when it comes to sexual activity, older people are really just younger people later in life,” Lindau said.
So true. So true.
“There’s no reason to believe they give up the basic human desire for love and intimacy and the kind of pleasure that comes from intimate relationships,” Lindua said.
As you might expect, the proportion of those having sex did decline somewhat with age. By ages 75 to 85, it was down to 39 percent of men and 17 percent of women. Among those who remained sexually active, frequency also fell with age. But even among the oldest age group, 54 percent of those who were still sexually active, reported having sex at least two to three times per month and 23 percent reported having sex once a week or more. “This just shows that the light doesn’t go out. The flame doesn’t go out,” said Todd P. Semla, president of the American Geriatrics Society.
Ok. This is a reader warning, We’re about to get a bit grubby.
The most common sexual activity was vaginal intercourse. But the survey found a significant proportion of respondents reported engaging in oral sex, both giving and receiving, as well as masturbation. Mirroring their younger counterparts, elderly men reported more sexual activity than women, but researchers said that was largely because women live longer than men, giving the surviving men more opportunities to have sex than women. (Go you good thing). “This doesn’t necessarily mean that women aren’t necessarily interested in intimacy and sexuality,” Lindau said. “A substantial number of women say the reason they are not having sex is they don’t have a partner.”
Among those who remained sexually active, nearly half reported at least one sexual problem. Forty three percent of women reported a lack of sexual desire, 39 percent of women reported vaginal dryness, and 37 percent of men reported problems achieving an erection.But, given the availability of new medical treatments such as Viagra, the findings did indicate that older people would benefit from more frank and open discussions about sex with their doctors. “This should increase awareness among physicians to pay more attention to this,” said John E. Morley, Director of Geriatrics at St. Louis University. “This is extraordinarily important, and we need to pay more attention to it.”
My word it is. If you are still not convinced, just ask Carol Brady.