Still Sexy After 60 #4/4 ( By TIME - jan. 19. 2004 )

The emphasis, in any event, may be as much on a caring relationship as it is on sex. Both widowed and both 87, Hilde and Joe met through relatives, took to each other and decided to set up joint housekeeping--though, at her insistence, only on weekends. "We had our lovefests at my place," says Hilde, a lively community volunteer in Tamarac, Fla., a suburb of Fort Lauderdale. "But on Mondays I'd send him packing." Recently Joe suffered a mild stroke. Refusing to go into a nursing home, he moved into a little house across from Hilde's. She got it furnished, makes him dinner and continues to enjoy his companionship. "He still likes his sex," she says with a laugh, "though I'm not back yet at my old energy level because of all the work." Ettie and Ben Kranz of Cleveland, Ohio, have had a somewhat different experience. In their 68-year marriage, they had plenty of good sex until his 86 years finally caught up with him. "Our lives aren't the same, but we complement each other," says Ettie, who at 89 still drives around town, shops, cooks, bakes and tends to him. "He's my child now."

Even nursing homes are finding they must adjust to late-blooming love and its attendant complexities. In a forthcoming book, Stella Henry, a Los Angeles geriatric nurse and bioethicist, describes the very different family reactions to a romance between two pseudonymous residents--Jack, 92, and Jill, 86--in a Los Angeles-area long-term-care facility. While the man's family gave its blessings, the woman's relatives were appalled. Henry, reflecting the enlightened view of a new generation of caregivers, is sympathetic to late-December pairings as long as both partners still have their wits and the relationship doesn't disturb other residents.

Because men are often outnumbered in senior homes, they may be subjected to a lot of attention. Nancy, 83, a very proper widow who had just arrived at an upstate New York senior residence, recalls casually accepting a ride one fall afternoon from a fellow resident, a lively gent who wanted to show her the countryside. The next evening at cocktail hour, Nancy was taken aside and told in no uncertain terms by another widow that the man was already taken. "I thought I was back in a high school locker room," recalls Nancy, astonished by the woman's aggressiveness. Sexual games among the senior set can also have a happier outcome, of course. Discovering each other via the Internet, old high school sweethearts Barbara MacLeod and Bill Jessup, both 77 and living in Miami, got married last March and found, in his words, "we can teach something to newlyweds" about sex. He loves chasing Barbara around the house, he says, though happily for him, "she won't run that much."

Innocent fun or not so innocent, senior sexuality still ruffles feathers in a society that prefers not to acknowledge its existence. Many doctors won't even bring the subject up with older patients. "That affection is subject to ridicule seems just wrong, ageist," says Butler.

But attitudes are changing. "To be bodily close again, to enjoy whatever the aging process allows, is one of the greatest blessings I know," a woman, 73, tells sex educator Eric Johnson. "Grow old along with me," the Victorian poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote to her new husband Robert Browning when she was 40, he was 34, and open expression of sexual desire was unheard of in polite society. "The best," she promised, "is yet to be." We're only beginning to learn how right she was. --With reporting by Kathie Klarreich/Miami and Wendy Malloy/Tampa

With reporting by Kathie Klarreich/Miami and Wendy Malloy/Tampa


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