Sex After 50: Getting Back in the Saddle

PHOTO Janet Windham, a 58-year-old newlywed from North Carolina, hadnâ??t had sex in 15 years and was well past her hot flashes when she finally consummated her second marriage in May.

Janet, a 58-year-old newlywed from North Carolina, hadn't had sex in 15 years and was well past her hot flashes when she finally consummated her second marriage in May.

Her late-in-life romance blossomed after the end of a 22-year marriage to an emotionally abusive husband.

"There was not a lot of love there and definitely not a lot of sex," she told ABCNews.com. "I didn't want to get involved with another man because I didn't want to get hurt."

But a dear friend from her days in the U.S. Army entered her life unexpectedly -- he too was divorced and eager to rekindle their relationship.

"I felt very safe with him, but he was in St. Louis and I was in North Carolina," explained Janet. "We got to know each other over the phone. He had me laughing, rolling on the floor like it used to be."

The couple met up in Indianapolis, staying with a relative in separate bedrooms. Jim brought roses to her door each morning and kissed her. "But I was extremely nervous."

As devout Christians, the couple took an oath of celibacy. And even though their three-year courtship was "passionate," Janet was well past menopause and worried about what kind of a lover she would be on their wedding day.

Sexually Active Seniors on the Rise

With men and women living longer, the number of people who are sexually active past 50 has steadily risen since the 1970s, according to both Swedish and American studies.

But for women like Janet, who are suddenly single again, either because of divorce or the death of a spouse, getting back in the bedroom can be anxiety-producing and awkward.

A 2007 study in the New England Journal of Medicine, reported that 73 percent of those in the 57 to 64 age group and 53 percent of those 65 to 74 reported having had sex with a partner in a the previous year. Among 75- to 85-year-olds, about 36 percent were still sexually active.

And, according to statistics from AARP, an estimated 15.4 percent of men and women over 50 are divorced, 6.25 percent have never been married and 4.4 percent are widowed.

"If they haven't been dating for a long time, women are up against feelings of self-confidence," said Lonnie Barbach, a clinical psychologist from the University of San Francisco.

Sexually Active Seniors on the Rise

"They're bodies have changed and they may not feel as comfortable or attractive," she told ABCNews.com. "Women are not getting the same attention from store clerks."

Biologically, women's bodies are more challenged than men's, and the pharmaceutical industry has yet to produce a "pink" Viagra. Besides lower libido, women's vaginal muscles are less flexible and without use, can actually shrink.

"If you don't use it, you lose it," said Barbach, author of "Positive Approaches to Perimenopause and Menopause."

Janet's gynecologist applauded her efforts to wait, but warned her that not having had sex for over a decade could be painful.

"It's almost like you are going to be a virgin again," the doctor told Janet. "But I'll help you get ready for your wedding night."

Janet was prescribed estrogen cream to ease vaginal dryness and given a series of books on what to expect.

But many middle-aged women are unprepared for that first sexual encounter.

Pam, a 57-year-old divorcee and business consultant from Maine, reconnected last year with a friend she had a crush on at riding camp 40 years earlier.

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