Mom and dad are suddenly single again. Is it time you had ‘the talk’?
There was never much about the Tom Cruise–Katie Holmes marriage that was conventional. Even by the standards of celeb couplings, it was a freak show. But in its death it has found a little of the normality it lacked in life. You see, Cruise just turned 50 and so has entered the age bracket in which divorce rates are soaring. For once in his life, the couch jumper is behaving like everyone else.
Happily for Cruise, if the statistics that apply to the common man have any bearing on him, he can soon look forward to an uptick in his sex life. According to a growing mountain of research, the over-50s are having more sex than ever before—and often not with the people they spent their earlier years married to.
In one study, published in February in the Student British Medical Journal, researchers peeked into the bedrooms of 50- to 90-year-olds in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K. and found that in 80 per cent of them, there was a lot more going on than shut-eye.
Sadly, nobody has compiled stats on how many among Toronto’s older generations are still at it, but if the clientele at the Come As You Are sex shop on Queen West is anything to go by, it’s a lot. Staff there estimate that about half their customers are 60-plus.
“We are fighting a very big myth that people stop having sex when they get older,” says Sarah Forbes-Roberts, one of four worker-owners at the co-operative, adding, “We don’t like to think our parents are having sex.”
And it might not just be your parents who are still going strong in the sack—your granny could be, too. Forbes-Roberts has heard that some Toronto seniors’ homes are starting workshops to help their residents figure out how to enjoy sex as their bodies change with age. And they seem to be working—sometimes customers drop into Come As You Are to buy sex toys for peers in their nursing home. “They take a group order,” explains Forbes-Roberts.
The reasons for the increase in sex among seniors is part cultural, part medical. Retired and without the kids to bother them anymore, many older couples find sex a good way to pass their days (according to SuddenlySenior.com, nocturnal sex is a young person’s game). Meanwhile, rising divorce rates among over-50s mean there are a lot more singles on the lookout for a new relationship, meeting new potential mates on online dating sites and reconnecting with old flames on Facebook. And, of course, the advent of Viagra has allowed many guys to stay in the game when previously they may have had to hang up their shirt and develop a really keen interest in gardening.
But there is a darker side to all of this friskiness. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, sexually transmitted infections are rising among the over-50s at an alarming rate. In 1999, the over-50s accounted for around 10 per cent of new HIV cases in Canada; by 2008, that number had risen to 15 per cent. Meanwhile, in the decade prior to 2007, new chlamydia cases among Boomers tripled; gonorrhoea nearly quadrupled.
Unlike people born in the ’80s and early ’90s, who grew up being bombarded by safe-sex messages, the Boomer generation came of age in the pre-AIDS world of free love. That, combined with the knowledge that an accidental pregnancy is pretty much off the table, seems to make older people less likely to reach for the condoms.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that at Come As You Are, alongside the grannies bulk-buying sex toys, they’re seeing another new breed of customer: the thirtysomething shopping for safe-sex gear and booklets to give to their recently single and suddenly dating mom or dad.
“There was a lady in the other day.” says Forbes-Roberts. “She was buying a few types of condoms and was going to give one of the brochures we have to her mother so she could then come shopping on her own.”
I doubt I’m alone in saying that having a role-reversed “sex chat” with either of my parents isn’t a prospect I relish. To be honest, I still get flashbacks to the original, which happened when I was about eight and involved huge numbers of visual aids, a pop-up book, and—for reasons I still can’t bring myself to consider—was delivered by my mom in a parked car as we waited outside my father’s office.
It’s just as well, then, that an organization called Safer Sex for Seniors has released a 30-second YouTube video urging seniors to “Do it. Safely.” Now all I have to do is explain YouTube to my mom.
Come As You Are, 493 Queen St. W., 416-504-7934, comeasyouare.com.