For many of the elderly residents who recently gathered for a senior citizen program, the presentation brought talk of what they had never discussed.
Not in public. Indeed, not in an open forum.
But what the audience of 27 may have lacked in past discourse, Long Beach speaker Cora Cocks compensated for in unabashed candor.
“I’ve been thinking about sex for a long time,” announced the spry, 81-year-old Cocks, who discussed “Sex After 60" as part of a lecture series sponsored by the City of Carson Friendly Visitor Program.
“I don’t think you ever have to stop thinking about sex,” said Cocks, a senior citizen activist. “If sex isn’t for you, that’s OK. But if it is, I don’t think you should let anyone laugh you out of it.”
Pokes Fun at Misperceptions
Instead, Cocks poked fun at examples of what she believes are society’s typical misperceptions about sex among the elderly.
“I saw a (greeting) card once about sex after 60,” she said. “It said ‘Sex after 60' on the front. Inside, it was blank.”
Cocks told the audience about an elderly couple, Henry and Martha, who were married as senior citizens. After the wedding, the couple stole away to a hotel, where Henry swept Martha off her feet and mounted a lengthy stairway.
Said Cocks, “The woman asked, ‘Am I too heavy for you, Henry?’ And he replied, ‘No, Martha, but I can’t remember what I’m going upstairs for.’ ”
There also was the time, Cocks recalled, nine years ago when she had what she called a “rare opportunity” to speak with a group of junior high school students about sex.
One rather embarrassed student, age 12, raised her hand midway through Cocks’ presentation, she recalled. “She asked me, ‘How old are you when you quit being horny?’ ”
Quipped Cocks, “I told her, ‘I don’t know. I’m only 72.’ ”
Despite long-kept myths about senior sex, Cocks said, attitudes are slowly beginning to change. She said that throughout the six years that she has lectured on sex after 60--during which her televised appearances have included spots on “The Phil Donahue Show,” “Hour Magazine” and “Over Easy"--the topic has become increasingly more acceptable.
“When I first started talking about it, people were shocked . . . (but) old people are coming out of the closet now,” Cocks said. For example, she pointed out, currently some 18,000 elderly people are unmarried but living together--"and they’re not playing chess.”
Asked a woman in the attentive but reserved audience, “Does that 18,000 figure refer only to the Long Beach area?”
‘No, that’s for all over (the U.S.)--but that leaves you room,” she shot back, later acknowledging that she sometimes “gets in trouble” for her outspoken views. (A minister once told her, she said, that she nearly caused a woman to faint when she mentioned the word orgasm during a church-sponsored appearance.)
Cocks works with numerous social service groups including the Long Beach Food Bank, the Long Beach Council of Seniors, the Long Beach Advisory Commission on Aging, the Senior Care Action Network and the United Way Planning Committee. She also has served as a member of the state Commission on Aging, which she headed for two years.
Her work experiences, she said, have helped her to identify what she considers the major problems people face in continuing to enjoy sex as they age. Those problems, Cocks said, can be traced to such factors as the attitudes of their children and doctors, senior citizens’ illnesses, fear of impotence and lack of elderly partners.
She has an abundance of rebuttals to those concerns.
Sexual intercourse, for example, prompts the release of cortisone in the bloodstream, points out Cocks, who was married for 51 years before her husband died in 1975. The flow of cortisone helps to relieve symptoms from arthritis, she said.
“So if you know someone who has arthritis,” she said, “tell them that you know something that will help them out. . . . There’s some compensation for everything.”