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After Their Husbands Dearly Departed, Sex Heated Up at 70, 80 and Beyond 

Love remains the ultimate key to desire.

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illustration of cardiogram  making a heart, sex life, female sexuality
Matt Chase
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Catherine had her first orgasm when she was 82. That burst of pleasure took her by surprise, as if her body had been a long-dormant volcano that was finally dusting itself off and erupting. Where had this seismic sensation been all her life?

A white-haired grandma who looks like Barbara Bush, Catherine described this thrill to her gynecologist, Maureen Whelihan, M.D., and explained how her lover, 79-year-old George, had ignited her passion for the first time.

“She had been married for 40-some years and never had good sex,” Whelihan explained. “When her husband died, Catherine thought, Thank God I don’t have to do that again!

Fast-forward 20 years: Catherine is 82 and living in a Florida senior home. A man at the weekly dance, George, asks her for a friendly fox trot. Catherine says no — until her daughter encourages her, taking her hand and leading her to George.

They dance. Catherine melts into his arms. George is kind and warm, everything she says her late husband was not. She agrees to go on a date with George if he’ll let her pay for dessert. That date turns into love, marriage — and her first-ever orgasm.

“Even though sex hurt like mad, I had feelings I never had before,” Catherine said. And that’s how she ended up in Whelihan’s office in West Palm Beach. “Nothing had been in her vagina for 20 years,” the gynecologist said. “She was bleeding.”

Catherine had vaginal atrophy, in which the walls of the vagina get thin and dry. It’s a common problem after menopause. 

Whelihan prescribed estrogen cream and offered this use-it-or-lose-it advice: “Once you start using your vagina, it will take care of itself. If you use your vagina twice a week, it will work for a lifetime.”

Soon Catherine’s lady parts bloomed anew, and for 10 years she and George had sex every day.

“Catherine’s 93 now, and George is 90, and they’re down to having sex once every six days,” Whelihan said — not because they don’t want to do it daily, but because George’s health insurer reduced his Viagra prescription. “They don’t think a 90-year-old needs an erection every day,” Whelihan explained.

Only a man’s doctor knows for sure if his heart can take the Viagra-induced thrill at 90. But erection or no erection, that doesn’t stop a lot of older women from getting it on and getting creative.

Whelihan and journalist Anne Rodgers surveyed 1,300 women, including 260 age 65 and up, for their 2013 book, Kiss and Tell: Secrets of Sexual Desire From Women 15 to 97. Rodgers confirmed that many women are late bloomers — because it’s not until their longtime mates die that they can do-si-do with another partner. Plus, they don’t have the responsibilities and expectations of long marriage, and that can add romance to a romp.

“One woman I talked to had been married a couple of times, and she was having the best sex of her life at 66, with a lover seven years older than she was,” Rodgers said. “Another, a woman I called ‘Veronica,’ was 72 when her husband of 48 years died. She started an affair with Juan, who was 30 years younger than she was.”

Veronica was not your typical widow. She claimed to have had 100 lovers during her marriage because, she said, her husband was lacking in bed. None was as good as Juan.

“Juan was the most amazing lover I’ve ever had,” Veronica told Rodgers, claiming she “had so many orgasms, I would scream.”

Note to voracious Veronicas out there: Sexually transmitted infections among adults 65 and up have more than doubled in the past 10 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Safe sex means condoms. Or “no hat, no party,” as the kids might say.

Perhaps there’s not much partying or screaming among longtime mates.

“Passion wanes when you’re married 50 years,” says Betty, who spent the last six years of her husband’s life as his caretaker. His progressive heart disease took a toll: At 53, he had a bypass; by 70, he was in a wheelchair; and by 73, he was gone.

By then, Betty had revealed her sexual frustration to Whelihan, who offered her a suggestion that intrigued her: “Why don’t you go to the drugstore and buy an electric toothbrush? Use it like a vibrator. Nobody will be shocked if your purse spills and the toothbrush falls out.”

A little while later. Betty met a 90-year-old dentist, Larry, who complimented her on her “beautiful teeth.” Little did he know that Betty had more than one toothbrush.

Larry became Betty’s “Pilot Light Lover.” That’s the term author Gail Sheehy used in her 2006 book, Sex and the Seasoned Woman: Pursuing the Passionate Life. “The Pilot Light Lover reignites a midlife woman’s capacity for love and sex,” Sheehy wrote.

What about 80-something women? They feel the fire too. Larry was so dynamic, he didn’t seem old, Betty said. One night he suggested they go into the bedroom and watch TV. Betty was “scared to death” as they started making out, cuddling and fondling. She insisted he keep the lights off — “He never saw me naked!” They didn’t have intercourse, but they discovered new ways to sexually satisfy each other, pleasures that Betty had never experienced before.

“You make me feel young in my old age,” he told her, and she felt the same way. “I discovered sexual passion through him,” Betty said. “Part of it was the way he showed me love and affection, the physical touching and the warmth. He made me feel glorious.”

Sex at 80 is not like sex at 30, but love remains the ultimate fuel of desire. “Certain emotions don’t age,” author Rodgers said. Remember Catherine? “When she talked about George, she was like a girl … giggling and breathtakingly joyful,” Rodgers said. “We sometimes forget that a young girl is still inside us, and falling love at 82 is as beautiful as it is at 22.”

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