Price got into the sex-education field after years as a high school teacher and a second career as both an aerobics and line-dance instructor and a writer on health and fitness. She was in her late 50s and long divorced when Robert Rice walked into her dance class. He was lean, comfortable in his body, a trained dancer in his mid-60s with a head of white hair. When Price saw him, she felt as if she couldn’t breathe.
They started getting together for dancing, walking and talking — foreplay, Price would later say — and nine months later, they had sex. When Price worried aloud to Rice that he might get bored with how long it took her to climax, he said: “It can take three weeks as long as I can take a break sometimes to change positions and get something to eat.” They tantalized each other on the phone, talking about what they’d like to do together. He also wanted her to have orgasms with him during intercourse, but Price knew her body: It wasn’t going to happen without a vibrator. Rice was initially reluctant; it seemed mechanical, not natural. “He had this idea that the vibrator would take over,” Price told me. She convinced him otherwise, and “from then on, we were a threesome.” They also discovered sex worked best if they did it before a meal, not after, so blood flow went to their genitals instead of toward digesting food. “Joan, I’m starting the rice cooker,” he would announce. And then Price would slowly peel off her clothes.
They married about five years after becoming a couple, and Price used her knowledge and excitement to write her first senior sex book, part memoir, part celebration of older sex, “Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk About Sex After Sixty.” Soon, people were emailing her, stopping her at the grocery store, at the gym. They’d say something along the lines of: It’s great that you’re having spectacular sex, but that isn’t going on in my life. They told her stories of so-so sex and bemoaned the things that didn’t work. They had lots of questions about how to make it better. She tried to address them in her next book, “Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud About Senior Sex,” which delved into research on sex and aging, enlisting doctors, sex therapists and other experts for advice.
Before she even started writing the second book, though, Rice was diagnosed with cancer. He died seven years to the day after their first kiss. It would be years before Price could work through her grief enough to date again. When she ventured back out, she was in her late 60s and signed up for OkCupid. She created rules for herself. She would not lie about her age. A date was an audition only for a second date, not for a lifetime partner. If she wanted to have sex with someone, she first made sure they both could talk openly about what they liked and didn’t like and agree to have safe sex.
Five years ago, she met Mac Marshall, a retired anthropologist, who is 78. Like Price, he talks freely about sex and is open to new experiences and ways to work around their ailments and creaky joints. She introduced him to different kinds of vibrators, including ones for his penis, and a variety of lubricants, which are now a regular part of their sex lives. They plan for sex, sometimes a day or more in advance, fantasizing about it beforehand. And when the time arrives, it’s a ritual of frank talk, pleasure and awareness of their old bodies.
On a winter afternoon in Quincy, Mass., I met with Stephen Duclos, a family, couples and sex therapist, in his office, before his evening patients arrived. Art hung on the walls, the windows stretched almost from the floor to the ceiling and carefully arranged books lined his shelves. Duclos, an intent listener with close-cropped gray hair and green eyes, has been a therapist for more than 48 years and a certified sex therapist for more than 20. He also teaches sex therapy to therapists and psychologists-in-training. And as he has aged (he’s now 72), younger colleagues have sent many of their older couples his way. Among the thousands of clients he has seen, several hundred have been in their 60s, 70s and 80s.
Often, when couples arrive at Duclos’s office, it’s because sex has dropped off over several decades. The relationship may be warm and high functioning, but sex is dormant. Or the couple is gridlocked, living separate lives without much connection, emotionally or sexually. Sometimes they come to see him because medications or cancer treatments have affected sex. Or the couple is contemplating a change in their relationship. A man has had an affair or is considering one. A woman wants to open the marriage or engage in sexual fantasies that she’s never been able to express. Some of this, Duclos notes, is driven by our fear of “not being sexually relevant anymore and losing that part of our identity.”