How Are Your Orgasms, Mom?

ann whidden

From birth to death, we are all sexual beings. We have a hard enough time acknowledging this when it comes to children, but when it comes to aging adults, the silence is deafening.

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles on sexuality and aging, co-produced by the National
Sexuality Resource Center and Rewire. Check back in the coming weeks for more on seniors and sexuality.

My mom turns sixty-nine this
fall, and she recently asked if I could turn my communications expertise
to a more familial project: updating her personal profile on a popular
dating site. As she gears up to meet men for Coke dates in the mall,
I geared up for how to have "the talk" that I never got from her.
How do I cover the basics, like condom use and STI prevention that I
wished I’d heard from her as a teen-and how do I cover topics like
vaginal dryness, communication, and pleasure (topics I would have liked,
but maybe not from mom)? I wish to be as bold as masturbation guru Betty
Dodson, who, the story goes, once asked her mother, How are your

From birth to death, we are
all sexual beings. We have a hard enough time acknowledging this when
it comes to children, but when it comes to aging adults, the silence
is deafening. And deadly: 60 percent of unmarried women ages fifty-eight
to ninety-three report that they didn’t use a condom the last time they
had sex, and the CDC reports that 15 percent of new HIV cases are among
people over fifty. The number of adults sixty-five and older will reach
seventy-two million by 2030-and, according to current statistics,
about 46 percent of them won’t be married; 7 to 10 percent will identify
as LGBT. That’s a lot of people. More importantly, that’s a lot
of people having sex: Stacey Lindau’s groundbreaking research on sexuality
and aging showed that 53 percent of those aged sixty-five to seventy-four
are sexually active. My mom is going to have a lot of Coke dates. 

Scary statistics aside, sexuality
has a lot more to offer elders than risk: healthy sexuality contributes
to quality of life, and aging adults can see real health benefits from
sexual enjoyment – whether that happens alone or with a partner. Regular
sex is believed to stimulate the immune system, lower stress, and improve
sleep. According to a Scottish study, folks having regular sex look
seven to twelve years younger than their peers. And it’s a lot cheaper
(with less recovery time) than plastic surgery or Botox. 

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Aging adults also have special
needs when it comes to sexuality. Erection concerns and vaginal dryness
are common among elders, and a penetration-focused sexual discourse
leaves many potential avenues for sexual fulfillment unexplored. Assisted
living facilities are not always supportive of sexual expression amongst
residents. Dementia, as well as cognitive and physical impairment, can
pose real barriers to issues such as consent, healthy decision-making,
and sexual desire. Stigma and shame from family, caregivers and doctors,
who get "grossed out" by the idea of older adults having sex, leave
the concerns of aging adults invisible and untended. Separation and
death of a partner leave boomer-plus adults willing – but ill-prepared – to
enter a new world of dating and relationships. LGBT elders face special
concerns of isolation and oppression as they grow older. For all these
reasons, aging adults are left with few resources, little information,
and a paucity of supportive healthcare. 

As part of our mission to promote
lifelong healthy sexuality, the National
Sexuality Resource Center

has made sexuality and aging a priority issue: We are currently conducting
an assessment of the sexuality needs of aging adults in assisted living
facilities, leading presentations on sexuality and aging at national
conferences including AARP, and working to include the special concerns
of LGBT elders in sexuality dialogues. 

Over the next weeks the National
Sexuality Resource Center will co-produce a series on sexuality and
aging, in partnership with Rewire. In our efforts to promote
positive, healthy sexuality – not just disease prevention or risk avoidance – you
will find articles that discuss sexuality in all its complexity. Relationship
coach Katherine
singles, dating, and relationship issues; Clitoral
author Rebecca
Chalker offers sexual health tips. Lara Riscol will take a look at the
problems posed by Alzheimer’s and sexuality, and sexuality pioneer
Peggy Brick will introduce her groundbreaking work on sex education
for elders. To finish things off, Meika Loe takes a look at how Viagra
puts extra pressure on men’s sexual performance. 

On his ninety-fifth birthday,
Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes saw an attractive woman
and mused, "Oh, to be seventy again." Our potential for healthy
sexuality extends as far as our lifespan; we all deserve the information,
resources, and support to fully live up to our potential. Not to mention
a few, good, healthy orgasms.

Commentary Politics

Milwaukee Officials: Black Youth, Single Mothers Are Not Responsible for Systemic Failings—You Are

Charmaine Lang

Milwaukee has multiple problems: poverty, a school system that throws out Black children at high rates, and lack of investment in all citizens' quality of life. But there's another challenge: politicians and law enforcement who act as if Black youth, single mothers, and families are the "real" reasons for the recent uprising and say so publicly.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

On the day 23-year-old Sylville Smith was killed by a Milwaukee police officer, the city’s mayor, Tom Barrett, pleaded publicly with parents to tell their children to come home and leave protests erupting in the city.

In a August 13 press conference, Barrett said: “If you love your son, if you love your daughter, text them, call them, pull them by the ears, and get them home. Get them home right now before more damage is done. Because we don’t want to see more loss of life, we don’t want to see any more injuries.”

Barrett’s statement suggests that parents are not on the side of their sons and daughters. That parents, too, are not tired of the inequality they experience and witness in Milwaukee, and that youth are not capable of having their own political ideologies or moving their values into action.

It also suggests how much work Milwaukee’s elected officials and law enforcement need to do before they open their mouths.

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Barrett’s comments came after Smith fled a traffic stop and was shot by authorities on Milwaukee’s northwest side. The young Black man’s death sparked an urban uprising in the Sherman Park neighborhood, an area known for its racial and religious diversity. Businesses were burnt down, and the National Guard was activated in a city plagued by racism and poverty.

But Milwaukee parents and families need more than a directive thinly disguised as a plea. And Mayor Barrett, who was re-elected to a fourth term in April, should know well that Milwaukee, the nation’s most racially stratified city, needs racial equity in order for there to be peace and prosperity.

I live in Milwaukee, so I know that its residents, especially its Black parents, do love their children. We want more for them than city-enforced curfews and a simplistic solution of returning to their homes as a way to restore calm. We will have calm when we have greater investment in the public school system and youth services; easy access to healthy food; and green spaces, parks, and neighborhoods that are free from police harassment.

In fact, according to staggering statistics about Milwaukee and Wisconsin as a whole, Black people have been consistently denied their basic human rights and health. Wisconsin has the highest rate of incarceration of Black men nationwide; the Annie E. Casey Foundation has found it is the worst state for racial disparities affecting Black childrenand infant mortality rates are highest among Black women in the state.

What we absolutely don’t need are public officials whitewashing the facts: that Milwaukee’s young people have much to protest, including Wisconsin’s suspending Black high-school students more than any other state in the country.

Nor do we need incendiary comments like those coming from Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who drew national attention for his “blue lives matter” speech at the Republican National Convention and who is a regular guest on CNN and Fox News. In an August 15 op-ed published by the Hill, Clarke has called the civil unrest “the rule of the jungle,” “tribalism,” and a byproduct of “bullies on the left.”

He went even further, citing “father-absent homes” as a source of what he calls “urban pathologies”—leaning on old tropes used to stigmatize Black women, families, and the poor.

Single mothers are not to be blamed for young people’s responses to a city that ignores or criminalizes them. They should not be shamed for having children, their family structure, or for public policy that has made the city unsafe for parenting.

Creating justice—including reproductive justice—in Milwaukee will take much more than parents texting their teens to come home. The National Guard must leave immediately. Our leaders must identify anti-Black racism as a root cause of the uprisings. And, lastly, creating justice must start with an end to harmful rhetoric from officials who lead the way in ignoring and dehumanizing Milwaukee residents.

Sheriff Clarke has continued his outrageous comments. In another interview, he added he wouldn’t “be satisfied until these creeps crawl back into their holes so that the good law-abiding people that live in the Milwaukee ghetto can return to at least a calm quality of life.”

Many of Milwaukee’s Black families have never experienced calm. They have not experienced a city that centers their needs and voices. Black youth fed up with their treatment are not creeps.

And what hole do you think they should crawl back into? The hole where they face unemployment, underemployment, police brutality, and racism—and face it without complaint? If that’s the case, you may never be satisfied again, Sheriff.

Our leaders shouldn’t be content with Milwaukee’s status quo. And asking the citizens you serve to be quiet in the ghetto is an insidious expectation.

News Health Systems

Texas Anti-Choice Group Gets $1.6 Million Windfall From State

Teddy Wilson

“Healthy Texas Women funding should be going directly to medical providers who have experience providing family planning and preventive care services, not anti-abortion organizations that have never provided those services," Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in a statement.

A Texas anti-choice organization will receive more than $1.6 million in state funds from a reproductive health-care program designed by legislators to exclude Planned Parenthood

The Heidi Group was awarded the second largest grant ever provided for services through the Healthy Texas Women program, according to the Associated Press.

Carol Everett, the founder and CEO of the group and a prominent anti-choice activist and speaker, told the AP her organization’s contract with the state “is about filling gaps, not about ideology.”

“I did not see quality health care offered to women in rural areas,” Everett said.

Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in a statement that it was “inappropriate” for the state to award a contract to an organization for services that it has never performed.

“The Heidi Group is an anti-abortion organization, it is not a healthcare provider,” Busby said.

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State lawmakers in 2011 sought to exclude Planned Parenthood from the Texas Women’s Health Program, which was jointly funded through federal and state dollars. Texas launched a state-funded version in 2013, and this year lawmakers announced the Healthy Texas Women program.

Healthy Texas Women is designed help women between the ages of 18 and 44 with a household income at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, and includes $285 million in funding and 5,000 providers across the state.

Bubsy said the contract to the Heidi Group was “especially troubling” in light of claims made by Everett in response to a recent policy requiring abortion providers to cremate or bury fetal remains. Everett has argued that methods of disposal of fetal remains could contaminate the water supply.

“There’s several health concerns. What if the woman had HIV? What if she had a sexually transmitted disease? What if those germs went through and got into our water supply,” Everett told an Austin Fox News affiliate.

The transmission of HIV or other sexually transmitted infections through water systems or similar means is not supported by scientific evidence.

“The state has no business contracting with an entity, or an individual, that perpetuates such absurd, inaccurate claims,” Busby said. “Healthy Texas Women funding should be going directly to medical providers who have experience providing family planning and preventive care services, not anti-abortion organizations that have never provided those services.”

According to a previous iteration of the Heidi Group’s website, the organization worked to help “girls and women in unplanned pregnancies make positive, life-affirming choices.”

Texas Health and Human Services Commission spokesperson Bryan Black told the Texas Tribune that the Heidi Group had “changed its focus.”

The Heidi Group “will now be providing women’s health and family planning services required by Healthy Texas Women, including birth control, STI screening and treatment, plus cancer screenings to women across Texas,” Black said in an email to the Tribune.

Its current site reads: “The Heidi Group exists to ensure that all Texas women have access to quality health care by coordinating services in a statewide network of full-service medical providers.”

Everett told the American-Statesman the organization will distribute the state funds to 25 clinics and physicians across the state, but she has yet to disclose which clinics or physicians will receive the funds or what its selection process will entail.

She also disputed the criticism that her opposition to abortion would affect how her organization would distribute the state funds.

“As a woman, I am never going to tell another woman what to tell to do,” Everett said. “Our goal is to find out what she wants to do. We want her to have fully informed decision on what she wants to do.”

“I want to find health care for that woman who can’t afford it. She is the one in my thoughts,” she continued.

The address listed on the Heidi Group’s award is the same as an anti-choice clinic, commonly referred to as a crisis pregnancy center, in San Antonio, the Texas Observer reported.

Life Choices Medical Clinic offers services including pregnancy testing, ultrasounds, and well-woman exams. However, the clinic does not provide abortion referrals or any contraception, birth control, or family planning services.

The organization’s mission is to “save the lives of unborn children, minister to women and men facing decisions involving pregnancy and sexual health, and touch each life with the love of Christ.”


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