When was the last time you saw an elderly couple in Moscow hold hands or, God forbid, kiss? Let me guess: never.
We discussed if there is a place for feelings and erotica in the lives of Russian pensioners, why they so diligently hide their sexuality, and what we all know about the intimate lives of the elderly in general with Dmitry Rogozin, a field interview at RANEPA (The Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration under the President of the Russian Federation), who professionally examines the sexual practices of people in older age groups.
MOSKVAER: Dmitry, let’s start from the question that has bothered me for a long time already. Where are all the elderly couples? Look, when we, for example, are visiting any European city, we see many elderly people, couples as well, who hold each other’s hands, talk to each other, smile, and express feelings. Simply, you can definitely tell that there’s something between them. While in Moscow, you can barely meet an elderly couple on the streets, and if you do, they mostly seem tragically, depressingly unhappy. Why so? What has gone wrong?
DMITRY: First of all, I disagree that they all look tragically unhappy – it depends… Secondly, there are two reasons for why we barely meet elderly people outside. The first reason is more technological: Moscow’s environment is not suitable for people with any kind of limitations, especially compared to Europe. And I suppose everybody agrees with the fact that age gives us some limits anyway, especially if we talk about the top cluster of elderly people – 80 years and older.
As for the lower cluster of elderly people, who have just retired, for example, 60-year-olds, there is reason rooted in cultural patterns. In Russia, and also throughout the former Soviet Union, it’s not acceptable for people in age to show off love or any erotic kind of relationship with the opposite sex. Unfortunately, it is so. That is why elderly people, even couples, usually walk keeping some distance, kind of separately, reproducing that cultural pattern – unfortunately, not the best one.
M: You say it’s not acceptable to show off or even allow the hint of any erotic relations between elders. But do those erotic relations between elders ever exist?
DMITRY: Of course! They always exist and don’t disappear with age. We simply have a huge misconception about sex.
“In Russia, and also throughout the former Soviet Union, it’s not acceptable for people in age to show off love or any erotic kind of relationship with the opposite sex.”
M: Exactly! That’s what is also said in your research. But if it does exist, why is it hidden, as if it is something shameful?
DMITRY: It’s hidden not because it’s shameful, but because it’s intimate. One old lady in her mid-80s once shared a brilliant though with me. She said: “You know, when you talk about sex with a beloved one, it awakens desire. And when you talk about sex with strangers, it awakens lust. Why do we need it?”. So this “Why?” question became rooted in old people’s minds. It is believed that a wide demonstration of sexual desires is unworthy for a human being. There’s good sense in it, but also there’s a “footboard”.
The thing is that as soon as we start limiting outer demonstration areas of our sexuality, we bring this limit to the inner. Because sex is not just a physical exercise. You can’t compare it with sports or anything else that implies body activity. Sex (and the entire progressive world already came to this conclusion 20 years ago) is a communication. A conversation. A corporeal conversation. But since we are commonsensical humans, we can’t have corporeal conversation without verbalization. Our intellectual abilities support your corporeal sensuality. As soon as we limit the outer demonstration areas of our corporeal sensuality, we unconsciously limit our thinking about sex, and eventually, sex itself.
“In old age there’s only two dominate spheres of life that are worth talking about – sex and death.”
M: Speaking of communication, is it generally common among elders to talk or share thoughts on sex?
DMITRY: Ageism says that until you are young, you’ve got conversations, practices, everything you want, and as soon as you get old (let’s say, turn 70 – usually by that time one’s physical activity decreases), that’s it – you’re tired, fun is finished.
But I want to mention, that people can be divided not just by age rate, but also by generation criteria. Thus, current 80-year-olds differ from the past ones due to socio-cultural, historical context. We have to keep that in mind.
M: Do you mean that some 80-year-olds didn’t just stop talking about sex, but rather never started?
DMITRY: Or have started and now they’re unstoppable….
M: In general, how important is sex in the lives of the elderly? Does it influence the relationships of people – can people get together or split, consider themselves happy or miserable due to sexual reasons?
DMITRY: In old age there’s only two dominate spheres of life that are worth talking about – sex and death. Because everything else slowly fades away – careers, statuses…
M: It would seem that sex is also in this list…
DMITRY: Nope. Nope. But the fact that we always try to separate body and soul is sort of profanation. Corporeality is extremely important, for spiritual development as well. In this pair – sex and death – thinking about death is responsible for spirituality, because if I don’t think of death, I start degrading as a human; and sexual practice is responsible for corporeality. Breaking this balance automatically influences your health, tonus, etc.
Even without scheduling studies, it’s obvious, that sex is such an aspect of life that appears from the moment of birth, ends after death and remains dominate for the being during its life.
M: Ok, good, and what is going on from a technical standpoint? Is there any data on the frequency and duration of sex for elders?
DMITRY: To be frank, we haven’t measured that data and have even never asked elders about that. Just because those are things that haven’t to be asked about. They are not important. What is much more important is how long the erotic interaction rather than sexual action lasts. And this exact parameter doesn’t tend to change with age. Practices might change, but the frequency and duration of erotic interaction does not.
DMITRY: Yes. But with old age comes another huge problem – it is the loss of a loved one. After 70 years many people become lonely, especially women, because men die earlier in Russia. And this factor is already a very strong restriction on the frequency of sexual intercourse. So if we’re talking about sex in old age, the main reason for its absence would be loneliness. Not physiology, but loneliness kills sexual practices.
M: In such age, do people try to find someone? Are they motivated enough, and if so, then whom are they looking for? Do people still only want something serious, “till the end of time”?
DMITRY: It depends. Age doesn’t play a big role here – in youth, as well as in old age, people might go through different situations and experiences. What is important, more important than how an old person plans relations with another person, is that the old one is always oppressed with his\her background, and usually is too scared to let strangers get closer.
“Not physiology, but loneliness kills sexual practices.”
M: Ok, but when he/she finally lets someone get closer, who would that person be? Would it be more likely a person of the same age or rather someone younger?
DMITRY: That also depends. As they say, you can’t command the heart. But the polls say that, yes, for a man it is much easier to find a younger woman than for a woman to find a younger partner. This is so due to relevant social prejudices.
M: The question arises, how popular is Viagra and similar stimulants among Russian men?
DMITRY: Not very much actually, even though they are actively advertised. By the way, the maintenance of drug potency is a very flawed way in my opinion. Communication is much more important than abstract physical contact, and it really “lifts up” relations.
Here is an example. Several times while conducting interviews at homes of my respondents, I caught a moment when his or her partner came to visit.
M: You mean lover?
DMITRY: Yes. So, I was amazed at how the face of my companion changed when meeting the partner! 10-15 years is reset only by a smile and a twinkle in the eyes. I cannot even find words to describe all the physiological changes that happen to a human when he\she sees their beloved one. And in fact, it immediately negates all planted limitations, all the shame inherent in particular for women when getting old.
M: Is there a place for sex without commitment between elderly people? One-night-stands, or prostitutes?
DMITRY: Here, I must admit, the situation changes with age. Random communication and casual sex occurs less frequently between elderly people than between young people. I believe that it is related to such an important phenomenon of human life, as the experience. With its accumulation, a person begins to take more responsibility and consciously relates to him\herself and to others.
M: And when is that age of awareness?
DMITRY: There is a so-called sexual point of fracture, and in Russia, or even in Moscow (still a special environment), it occurs for both men and women, somewhere in the range of 50-55 years. In the regions, by the way, it comes 10 years earlier. At this point, the whole experience of life (marriage, divorce, children, lovers), the sort of personal luggage plays a crucial role and, moreover, restricts a person from casual relationships and often might become a factor of the complete rejection of the self as a sexual partner.
M: That does not sound very life-affirming. I suggest to end the conversation on a more optimistic note. What advice would you give to our readers in age?
DMITRY: No need to shut down in regards to sex. Sex should be practiced at any age. Another thing that you need to get rid of is stereotypes, which, incidentally, are relevant not only among the elderly, but, in fact, laid at a very young age, along with the first sexual experience. The main stereotype I’ve already announced—it is that sex is a purely physiological act with a clear ending of orgasm. No. Again: sex is, first of all, communication.