Dame Helen Mirren who has spoken out time and again about ageism and unrealistic beauty standards Photo: Vogue Magazine
Joan Price knows exactly what doctors say to people in their fifties and sixties and older about sex.
"They think it no longer matters, they think we are no longer interested."
And they couldn't be more wrong, says Price, the author of The Ultimate Guide to Sex After 50.
She's the keynote at the inaugural Let's Talk About Sex conference to be held in Melbourne next week, hosted by Alzheimer's Australia and Council of the Ageing. And she is ready to give doctors a real talking-to. The medical profession is often ready to give up on our sex lives well before the rest of us are.
She tells of one couple, who'd had pleasurable sex for decades, that was suddenly confronted with erectile dysfunction. The male partner had been put on medication for other ailments – high blood pressure and glaucoma. Months later, they found out the betablockers in his medications can affect erections. Neither of the doctors who saw this patient bothered to mention erectile dysfunction as a possible side effect.
Joan Price is also very ready to speak up on our behalf. "It is so crucial that the medical profession learns we are not willing to give up our sexuality.
"Medication has side effects - I hear these horror stories over and over again."
Of course, it's not just the medication that destroys the flow – Price says we also lose confidence as we age.
"Society has this image that sex is between firm hard bodies and that people with wrinkles and lots of experience are no longer objects of desire.
"We as older people have internalised that and think 'he can't possibly want me any more because I have wrinkles' or 'she can't possibly want me any more because I have difficulty keeping an erection'."
"But sexual pleasure has no expiration date – our minds and our bodies are capable of great sexual joy and pleasure, lifelong."
And it's all those needs and desires which drive Maree McCabe to bring Joan to Australia. McCabe is the CEO of Alzheimer's Australia (Victoria) and she and her team are determined to bring an improved understanding of ageing sexuality to the aged care sector. Which all sounds very worthy – but the fact is that sometimes the only people being consulted about the sexual needs of the elderly are their kids. Eeew.
"We ask older people about their health and their relationships but not about sex, not about intimacy; and we need to do what we can to support that.
"Often what happens is that an aged care centre will call the children to consult. I asked my own kids what they would do if that ever happened. They said: 'We don't want to get that call, we don't want to know.'"
But this conference is bringing a sex-positive message to the over fifties, sixties, seventies and onwards.
Price is 71 and her beloved partner died seven years ago; they were only together eight years before his death.
"We had a magnificent sex life and we could not understand what that possibility was a secret. Why don't we know that sex at our age can be magnificent?"
In the time they were together, she began to research and write in the area – and now speaks all over the world bringing her message that joyful sex can continue well into our old age. And even when we have lost those we love.
"So many of us have lost our partners and now we are out in the dating world or we wonder whether we will have to go without for the rest of our days."
She resolutely believes the answer is no. Price hasn't found a new permanent partner but reveals she has a "friend with benefits". And offers a few other useful tips.
"Sex toys are the greatest gift to our generation."
And a gift which keeps on giving.
Joan Price will be speaking in Sydney and Melbourne from 7 Sep - 16 Sep, details here.
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