When Miley Cyrus recently told Matt Lauer that, at 55, he was no longer sexy, female Today Show watchers all over America were astonished. Especially we Boomers. What exactly does young Miley, known mostly these days for cavorting around near-naked with her tongue hanging out while massaging herself with a foam finger, really know about being sexy?
Not to worry. Senior sex expert Joan Price quickly penned a Huffington Post column.
"An Open Letter to Miley Cyrus About Sex After (Gasp!) 40," putting Cyrus in her place.
So, who exactly is Joan Price?
Price, at 69, is a cheerleader for everything fun and erotic for those of who are getting a little long in the tooth. She's been blogging about senior sex for almost a decade. She gives lectures, holds workshops and writes books about sex and aging. She even reviews sex toys on her blog from a senior's perspective. (She's covered 70 so far.)
So, what makes a sex toy senior-friendly?
"The last thing you want," she tells me, "is to buy a vibrator, then get it home and find that the printed instructions are so small you can't read them with your trifocals. If the design isn't so intuitive that instructions become irrelevant, that print had better be readable." She also evaluates whether the grip is well-designed for a user with arthritic hands. "I want intense vibrations," she explains, "but not in my wrist." Nor should the toy turn itself off while the user is still turned on.
Reviewing sex toys? Nice work if you can get it, you might think.
Or you might think "ick!"
The "ick factor" is part of Price's life. She shrugs it off. "The thought of seniors having sex makes some folks squirm," she admits. (Including, apparently, a certain young pop star.) "They'd prefer to think that the moment you get your AARP card, your sex drive evaporates." Often, just the opposite is true. "Sex can improve with age. We're freer and more relaxed. We've learned what we like, and we're better at communicating about it."
But not always. Too many seniors, Price says, have allowed our sexual energy to fade. And we do face plenty of challenges: Aging bodies. Retreating hormones. Slow Arousal. Waning Libidos.
Not all of us are sitting in adjacent bath tubs on a hillside holding hands.
But Price believes we can enjoy great sex throughout our lives. And she's on a mission to make that happen.
How did she fall into the sex advisor biz? She fell in love.
Price, a long-divorced former English teacher, was enjoying a second career as an aerobics instructor and freelance health and fitness writer. She also taught line dancing. (Price has a lot of energy.) One day Robert Rice, a painter and arts administrator, joined the class.
It was a lightening bolt moment. "When I first saw him," she says. "I had to remember to keep breathing."
Although she was 57 and he was 64, sex was "terrific from the get go," says Price, far better than she'd anticipated, given their ages. But they still faced a few age-related challenges. Both needed more stimulation than when they were younger. "Everything worked," she says. "but it all took much longer." There was also a certain amount of "That hurts my back," and, "That hurts my knees." Price looked around for books she could consult about having fabulous midlife sex.
"There weren't any," she says. "So I wrote one."
Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk About Sex After Sixty (Seal Press, 2006) part-memoir and part-sex manual, tells the story of Price's sexual reawakening and describes how the couple overcame their erotic challenges (Thanks, in part, to a vibrator they dubbed "Dr. Ruth").
The book did well, despite some pushback, including one snaky review, titled "Now that Boomers Have Discovered There's Sex After 60, Could they Please Stop Writing About It?
"Not a chance," was Price's response.
She next published Naked At Our Age: Talking Out Loud About Senior Sex to answer the countless questions about their own sex lives readers had posted on her blog. The book combines advice from therapists, doctors and other professionals with anecdotes and information Price culled from emails from and surveys sent to 150 men and women in their 60s who were happy with their sex lives.
The third book in Price's "senior sex trilogy" is Ageless Erotica, a light-hearted collection of smutty stories about seniors from all walks of life, gay and straight, vanilla and kinky, taking their clothes off and having some fun.
Price is the "go to" person when it comes to senior sex. And she's very approachable.
"People come up to me all the time with questions about their sex lives," she says. "It's not unusual for one of my line dancing students to wait around after class to ask me about erectile dysfunction. Or, after a book signing, a reader in her 70s might take me aside to talk about why the type of foreplay she craved in their 20s doesn't rock her world anymore."
It's an interesting life, to be sure. And full of happy surprises. Like the New York Times reporter who phoned out of the blue to pick her brain for a story about pole dancing among suburban Boomers. Or the reader who just emailed: "I'm on Chapter 4 and you may have just saved my marriage."
While our bodies aren't what they were, most of our sex problems, says Price, have solutions. Different techniques. Positions that suit older bodies. Better lubricants. New toys. ("If a Hitachi Magic Wand doesn't work for you," she says. "Don't give up. Try an Eroscillator during partnered sex. With a marshmallow attachment!")
Great sex, says Price, also requires honest communication. Which, for many of us, doesn't come easily. After all, we came of age in an era when happily-married TV couple Rob and Laura Petrie had to sleep in twin beds, and Lucille Ball, even with a baby bump the size of a beach ball, was forbidden, on air, to utter the word "pregnant."
Sex was something we didn't talk about.
Notwithstanding the sexual revolution, says Price, her Boomer audience, while eager to learn more about sex, can be uncomfortable discussing it. "I picture them inching toward me rather than flinging their arms out," she says.
She tries to meet them halfway. "I avoid graphic language. I use words that won't shock. I put them at ease with warmth and humor." And while she talks frankly about explicit topics, there's nothing racy or provocative about her presentation.
"I'm here to educate," she says. "Not to titillate."
And to smash those irritating stereotypes about seniors and sex. "We're not asexual," she says. "Far from it. Plenty of people over 50 are having the best sex of their lives."
Including, I'm guessing, certain Today Show hosts.
If you, like me, are a Boomer who believes that Matt Laurer (not to mention the delectable Brian Williams) has still got it going on, feel free to ignore Miley Cyrus.
But when Joan Price weighs in, listen up!