Does masturbation evaporate from men's lives as they near old age? For many men, the answer is a resounding no.
By Linda Kirkham
[Linda Kirkham is a freelance writer and Internet consultant in western Canada. Her areas of expertise include music, literature, and how the arts reflect society.]
IN American popular culture, older people are assumed to have sex less often and with less passion than their younger counterparts. These assumptions apply to masturbation as well as sexual intercourse. However, sexual activity for older people can be as satisfying as when they were in their 20s.
It's been said that over 95% of men masturbate. Is the remaining 5% restricted to men over 65? "Yeah, I have seen those figures, and I pretty much assume the other 5% are lying," laughs Joe, a 70-year-old former bank manager. It appears that as long as a man has a sexual appetite, he masturbates. "Just because the color may have gone from my hair, that doesn't mean my penis has shrunk to nothing," says Archie, 75. "In fact, I probably masturbate more now than when I was a young man."
Some men, like Archie, may very well masturbate more, for a variety of reasons. First, men 60 and over are more likely to be widowers. With no sexual partner, men often turn to self-pleasure for sexual satisfaction. "It's either that or find myself a hot young lady," Archie jokes. He lost his wife five years ago to cancer, and rather than "cheat on her memory," he enjoys masturbation two or three times a week.
As well, men with spouses who are still alive masturbate when their partners are tired or not interested. Vern's 76-year-old wife, does not experience the same level of sexual arousal as she used to. "Her desire level went down after she went through menopause," the 79-year-old grandfather of 7 says. "Her hormones just said they were tired, I guess." Vern doesn't want to pressure his wife or make her feel as though she is obligated to satisfy his every urge. "We have been married for almost 50 years and know each other in and out. When you love someone and have been through almost everything imaginable that two people can go through, you also know when to pull back."
While the men we interviewed stated that they do still masturbate, several admitted they don't do it as often as when they were younger. "It's not that I'm not interested in sex as much anymore," says Gregory, age 80. "But it's less of a part of my life now than it was then. It's not a novelty anymore – after a 47-year marriage, 3 children, 5 grandkids, retirement, and the death of your spouse – I guess priorities change, and your mind has other things to think about than sex." Gregory's wife died last year, and with that his libido dropped quite a bit. "Losing a spouse after that length of time, after spending your whole lives together, is almost like loosing a limb."
when I was a young man."
- Archie, age 75
Other men, like Charles, are perpetual bachelors. "I had my chances, that's for sure – but I could never settle down," he says with his lilting Scottish accent. "I am 73 years old and have never felt more alive. I still date – I even had a long-term girlfriend up until a few months ago – and I do masturbate regularly."
Marital history isn't the only factor determining whether or not an older man still masturbates. Health concerns are very real for older people, and they often inhibit one's sexual desire or ability to find gratification. "I'm in pain from osteoarthritis, I get tired a lot easier, I've got gout...sometimes sex is the last thing on my mind. If I could hear myself 50 years ago saying this, I would have been horrified," says Igor, 73.
Older men are also at a higher risk for erectile dysfunction (impotence) and prostate problems. "Some of my buddies say they can get it up just as easily now as when they were 18," says Morton, 80. "I'm not so sure if I believe them. With me, sometimes the spirit is willing, but the flesh just won't rise to the occasion!"
Ever since Colm, 78, had surgery for prostate cancer, his sex life – including masturbation – has not been the same. "I have trouble getting and maintaining an erection. But the worst part is the incontinence. It's awful when I am about to come, and I go instead."
For older generations – and younger ones, too – another factor may influence masturbation habits: religion. Some came from a home where the Bible was the law, ahead only of the word of their parents, who ruled with iron-clad strictness. "'Spare the rod, spoil the child,' was a favorite saying of my father," says Morton. "I can still hear him say that. I'm not saying it was all bad – all 9 of us kids had a healthy respect for our parents. But it did affect the way I view certain things in life, like sexuality." Masturbation was a topic not even open for discussion in Morton's childhood home. His father, however, did make it known that the behavior was unacceptable. "When he was explaining things like sex to us, he would make references to 'self-abuse' and say that it was wrong, that it could have unhealthy side effects. I am not so sure if it was the religion alone that drove my dad's attitude, or if it was just a different time with a different attitude. It was probably some of both."
Indeed, some ultra-religious parents today pass along such attitudes towards their children about masturbation. Morton himself admits to attempting to rear his own children the same way. "Like father, like son, I guess. But I was far less strict about it, and I eased up a lot by the time my youngest son became a teenager. I wisened up, I guess! I would rather they masturbate than have pre-marital sex."
"Remember that 50 years ago or so, people's attitudes were much stricter than now," says Charles, the dashing Scotsman. "People did not live together before marriage as widely as they do now. And those who did were looked upon as being very immoral. You got married young, you did not have sex before marriage, and masturbation was an extremely taboo topic. No doubt it was one of those things everybody did but no one talked about. No parent or teacher was going to say it was all right to do." So how did growing up in an earlier part of the 20th century affect Charles's masturbation habits? "Well, I did it, of course, and I felt guilty about it for a long time. But I just got over it. I changed with the times, which got more relaxed as I got older. I guess I think of myself as sort of a rebel. Never getting married was the odd thing to do in my day. Looking back, maybe my whole sex life has been a reaction to the strictness with which I was raised."
Several of the older gentlemen had advice for the younger folks. "Never let masturbation be a substitute for a loving, one-on-one relationship," says Archie. "But never feel ashamed or bashful about doing it, even after you get married. Your wife won't always be in the mood, even if you are."
"Have a good time, and don't do anything to hurt yourself," adds Colm, laughing.
Barring physical ailments that make it difficult to perform sexually, and having gotten over many of the religious and social hurdles faced during youth, masturbation in old age can be fun, exciting, and gratifying. "I've heard that sex in marriage gets better as the years go by, because the partners get to really know one another's needs," says Vern. "Well, no one knows your sexual needs more than yourself. Think about how much better you can be after 60 years of practice!"