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Sex talk for seniors stays fairly tame

Karen Garloch
Karen Garloch writes on Health for The Charlotte Observer. Her column appears each Tuesday.

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It could have been the provocative title: “Sex, Drugs & Rock & Roll.”

Or the advance warning: “This talk may make some people uncomfortable as it will be open and frank.”

Whatever the reason, more than 300 members of Senior Scholars of Queens packed a meeting room last week to hear Dr. Kevin Soden speak about human sexuality for the senior set, how it’s never too old to be interested in sex even if you have to “set your own standard for what is normal.” (The over-55 group hosts weekly speakers in partnership with Queens University of Charlotte.)

Soden is a onetime emergency physician at Carolinas Medical Center and former health reporter for WBTV who has worked with Dr. Mehmet Oz and hosts his own Emmy award-winning TV shows, “Healthline” and “Whole Body Health.”

As indicated by the title, Soden divided his talk into three parts. In addition to the “sex,” he talked about exercise as a way to “keep rocking and rolling,” and “drugs,” as in mostly the prescription type for blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and depression.

On exercise: Get 30 minutes a day five days a week and incorporate strength training to keep bones strong. “Walk your dog even if you don’t have one,” said Soden, who offers similar advice in videos at www.sharecare.com.

On drugs: The more you take, the more likely you’ll have side effects that could include drowsiness, confusion, memory loss, depression, incontinence, fatigue and muscle weakness, just to name a few. “All of these things have the potential to interact with one another,” he said. Talk to your doctor about whether any medicine is really necessary, how to know if it’s working, and what the side effects are.

When Soden finally got to the “Sex” part of his hour-long talk, he acknowledged: “This is what you’re all here for.” He displayed a photograph of himself at an AARP convention chatting with “Dr. Ruth” Westheimer, the 85-year-old sex therapist widely known for plain-spoken advice.

Soden used humor to deflect nervousness by displaying cartoons depicting old people talking about sex. It worked. The audience laughed again and again.

• “My sex life isn’t dead but the buzzards are circling.”

• “You can have a healthy sex life into old age, assuming you can stand the sight of people your age naked.”

• (Couple in a bed divided by barbed wire) “Apparently I’ve done something to upset you.”

But despite the advance billing, Soden’s talk didn’t come close to explicit. The most direct words were about men. Penis size doesn’t change with age, he said, even though it might appear that way when viewed against an expanding belly. Also, aging causes men to lose the ability to have “psychogenic erections” that occur often in younger men who just think of something sexual or see someone who’s physically attractive.

Soden also talked about the increase in medicines, such as Viagra, that treat erectile dysfunction and the marketing of drugs for low testosterone. “I would be really careful,” he said. “Low testosterone levels are a normal fact of life as we age.”

Questions from the audience – even anonymous ones written beforehand – were more tame than Soden expected. He said one woman came up to him privately afterward to thank him for saying that it’s normal to have sex no matter how old you are. But in the public setting, it seemed everyone was more comfortable just keeping it light.

One Senior Scholar who ducked out before the Q&A period joked to a few of us: “We can’t stay. We have to go home and have sex.”

Garloch: 704-358-5078
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