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Sept. 20, 2005


Over the hill? Aging isn't the end for sex, relationships

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Sex isn't the exclusive playground for the young, but a quality of life issue that continues well after age 50, a University of Michigan expert says in her new book.

Older adults desire fun, excitement and passion in relationships and sex, often associated with one's younger years. However, the stigma in the culture and lack of education about sexuality contribute to less openness and awareness among older adults, said Sallie Foley, an adjunct professor in the School of Social Work.

"Couples will discuss their finances, taxes and death, but can't find the words to talk about sex," said Foley, who wrote "Sex & Love for Grownups: A No-Nonsense Guide to a Life of Passion."

Foley, who co-authored "Sex Matters for Women: A Complete Guide to Taking Care of Your Sexual Self," has been a certified sex therapist at the U-M Health Systems Sexual Health Counseling Services since 1985. The new book resulted from a column about love and sexuality for older adults that she writes for AARP The Magazine.

Whether it's feeling ashamed or embarrassed, couples do not discuss love, relationship and sex, she said. They use euphemisms rather than communicating honestly with each other, she said. Some older adults also don't know where to obtain relationship information specific to their situation. When they do find this information—a magazine article about sex, for example—they do not know how to broach the subject with their partners, Foley said.

"People are hungry for practical advice in dating and sex, as well as resolving long-standing arguments," Foley said.

She offered six guidelines to vitality in relationships in her book:

Live a life of connections. "Even if a perfect love eludes you, making sure that you have a wallet full of photos of family and friends will give meaning to your life," she said.

Don't be afraid to try something new. If you continue to see yourself as an adventurer, or if you've never taken a risk to try new things, now's the time. "After 50, exactly what are you waiting for?"

Expect your relationships to be like your car. No matter how much time and care you devote to your vehicle, it still occasionally breaks down and always needs maintenance. Relationships are like that, too. "Sometimes, things will not go your way even in the best of relationships," she said.

Abandon either/or thinking. Life is complex, and thinking in rigid yes and no categories will often fail you. In order to respond to relationships and their complexity, think of diversity, plurality and many possible solutions to a problem. "If you think of 10 different ways to handle a problem, none will be perfect," she said. "Perfect is part of either/or thinking."

Take time to celebrate. Ask people what they love about life and they'll tell you it's the very ordinariness of life that is spectacular about living. After a crisis, what really counts is the restoration of normalcy.

Love. "This is where the words end and life begins—in loving," Foley said. "When you're loving, you relinquish the need for perfection and focus on what's real."

More health care workers, such as doctors and therapists, offer guidance and dialog with older patients by initiating conversations about healthy sexual functioning and also the risk of sexually transmitted diseases. Foley said older adults are at high risk for contracting STD's because they don't use condoms, thinking they're beyond the need for contraception.

Foley said people over 50 face similar challenges, such as overcoming fears of rejection, as their younger counterparts when it involves dating or dealing with long-term relationships. "Life never stops being complex for older adults. It's sometimes drama-ridden, but never ever dull," she said.

Today's older Americans are active, whether it's working a full-time job, volunteering at non-profit organizations or traveling throughout the country, Foley stated. "They see themselves as a vital, active resource, and they don't want life passing them by," she said.

For more information on Foley, visit:


Contact: Jared Wadley
Phone: (734) 936-7819