RENO, NEVADA – Dr. Daniel Laury struggled to come up with the right title for his new book, which looks at the sexual challenges that people face as they get older. One title after another got considered – then tossed.
“I didn’t like ‘Sex After 62 and a half,’ “ he said. He finally settled on the right title: “SeniorSex.”
“Why write the book?” asked Laury, a gynecologist with a practice in Medford, Oregon, who also hosts the television show “The Doctor Is Listening.” It’s because, he said, of the subtitle of a lecture he gave this weekend in Nevada: “What You Didn’t Learn in School.”
“There’s a need for this book,” he said. “I get people asking me questions all the time about sex. There’s a lot of information out there, and it’s not all accurate. I really felt there was a need for it.”
On Saturday, Laury discussed his book, his practice, and some of the challenges, problems and dilemmas that people face as they get older, but still maintain an interest in and desire for sexual encounters. He spoke during the 2012 Annual Gathering of American Mensa, in a room at the hosting hotel, the Silver Legacy in Reno, that was built to accommodate 50 people in the audience – even though Laury’s program attracted at least twice that many. That prompted the doctor to joke that with so many people crowded together, “It’s going to get warm in here.”
But he also pointed out that people clearly want to discuss and understand the sexual problems facing older people – and not necessarily from a prurient point of view.
As one woman in the audience noted to a friend moments before Laury began speaking, “So many of us have a vested interest in this.”
Laury said he felt the same way.
“Why did I write this book? Because nobody was talking about it,” he said. “I still hear that today – ‘Eww, don’t talk about that, TMI!’ “
On the other hand, regardless of how uncomfortable people may get while discussing the subject, he wanted to point out that maintaining an interest in sex helps people in a variety of ways – including motivating them to stay healthy and fit.
“Sex is very important,” he said. “If people are going to see you naked, you tend to exercise more. I say, ’Why did you gain 40 pounds?’ ‘Oh, we got divorced.’ Then you see them again and they lost the 40 pounds. ‘How did you do that?’ ‘Oh, I just got a new partner.’ “
In fact, he encouraged questions from the large audience with a bit of advice: it’s fine to be discreet if they wanted to.
“If you’re embarrassed to talk about your own issues, talk about your ‘friends,’ “ he said. “As in, ‘I have a friend who has this problem, see ….’ “
As people age, they continue to want sexual encounters, Laury said, but he added that there really isn’t a lot of research into why certain people develop particular sexual problems.
“They call me a geriatric gynecologist,” he said. “There is no such thing. We made it up. There should be, because we’re getting older as a population, but it doesn’t exist.”
Neither does extensive research into human sexuality in general, he added.
“Sex is something that research is being done on, but it’s something that only has about 50 years of research on,” he said. “It teaches me a lot of humility because there’s so much new stuff out there.”
What researchers do know, he added, is that as people get older, they’re more likely to complain about specific sexual problems, which fall into a few categories.
“We talk in the book about when sex doesn’t work,” he said. “What happens when sex doesn’t work? The most common question is, ‘Doc, I have a low libido.’ Well, libido is interest in sex, it’s not having sex.”
A common cause for a lower sex drive, he said, is fatigue. That comes in part because as people get older, their sleeping patterns become more restless.
“We sleep less as a society than most other societies,” he said. “In Germany, they have an extra month of vacation that we don’t have. You need to get enough sleep. But who sleeps 8.5 hours a night?”
That prompted one woman in the audience to yell out, “My cat!”
Another challenge is depression, since “As you get older, depression is more common, and why have sex when you’re depressed,” he said.
A third possibility is what he called the “conditioned response. Something always sets off sex, and if it happens all the time, it gets old after a while.”
Another frequent complaint, he said, is pain.
“Why have sex when it hurts?” he asked.
It’s common in both men and women, he said, to develop sexual pain disorders as they get older. But these disorders are not fully understood, he added.
“Sexual pain disorders are really something that physicians need to look into,” Laury said. “We ask really embarrassing questions, like ‘Is it getting in?’ “
But sometimes the causes are easier to figure out for the physician looking for clues, he added.
“The lubricants that are warming, most people don’t like,” he said. “Or the tissues just don’t like getting rubbed. Are there any questions about your ‘friend’s’ vaginal or erectile pain? Those are things we can do something about, but you have to talk to your provider and let them know what is going on.”
Another challenge that older couples face, he said, is what he called “Partner issues.”
“Nobody is born a great lover, and partners are trainable, but there has to be communication,” he said. “I have women who say to me, ‘My guy is not a good lover.’ It’s kind of like the ‘Wake me up in three minutes when you’re done’ conversation. But the truth is, sex improves with age. I know you may be shocked at that, but it’s actually true, because sex is not just physical anymore.”
Often times, Laury said, people who think their partners are mediocre at sex don’t know how to successfully or tactfully broach the subject.
“People are trainable, but I also hear that they don’t want to train someone,” he said. “Let’s say we have a heterosexual partners group, and the male needs to be taught how to do things right. This causes some type of defense mechanism in the male.”
Rather than being blunt, he suggested the women try a non-verbal approach first, like taking her partner’s hand, and then speaking in a delicate way.
“Say ‘I’ rather than ‘you,’ “ Laury said. “Say ‘I prefer you do this and this and this.’ I found this really does help. There’s a diplomacy that you might want to cultivate a little bit. Think about partner issues with some perspective.”
More importantly, Laury said, keep in mind that “As you get older, sex is not about physical beauty, it’s about communication. People have sex for 150 different reasons.”
There are also coping mechanisms for dealing with what hinders your sexual activity, he added.
“We have found people have gotten very creative,” he said. “People have sex in a hot tub. They have sex in the morning before their arthritis acts up. They take an Advil before sex.”
Laury said that on average, most American couples have sex just twice a week.
“That’s the average, and it goes down as you get older,” he said. “The average days are Thursdays and Sundays. That just means average. For you it might be once a month, never — or twice a day.”
To learn more about Dr. Laury and his work, email DrLaury@yahoo.com.
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