A friend of mother’s, a lovely older woman, casually remarked recently that the only way she would consider dating again would be if she found a man willing to provide both a doctor’s note and a bank statement. I can’t blame her for not wanting a new dependent at her age (not unless old lovers are a tax write-off), but what intrigued me about this comment was her need for proof of his medical fitness.
I would have never thought of seeking dating advice from medical experts, but upon reflection it seems to me, at least, that any savvy older woman considering a new partner should not only want a doctor’s note but might consider consulting an actuary as well.
Before I say more about this, I need to come clean and tell you that I am, apparently, naïve when it comes to the sexual behavior of senior citizens. I originally thought that the reason she would request a doctor’s note was because it was important for her to find partner who is healthy. I later discovered, after she shared a story about a promiscuous cruise ship captain and a boatload of horny old women (now, there is term you don’t hear every day), that what she was really seeking was to be assured that her prospective lover was STI free – not just generally disease free.
That is, of course, reasonable – especially since people over the age of fifty have increasing their involvement in risky sexual behavior over the past decade.
One of the more obvious explanations for the increase in senior promiscuity is that with so many senior women looking for love, and so few senior men available, men are in a better position to negotiate causal sex from women who might otherwise prefer to be in a relationship. We discussed the effect of the gender imbalance on the sex life of seniors before here at Dollars and Sex (Why "No Glove No Love" Is More Difficult for Older Women). This effect is very similar to that of the gender imbalance that has led to more casual sex, and less dating, on university campuses (Sex in College: It's a Buyer's Market).
The difference between the college sex market, where men are having more and more control over how sexual relationships are played out, and the senior sex market, is that while the numbers may be in an old man’s favor, his more limited life expectancy is not.
Think about it this way. There are a large number of women on the senior sex market, but very few men. In theory that gender imbalance should drive up the “price “ of a male sex partner, meaning that women who are participating on that market have to give up more in order to secure one for herself. In reality, though, men have shorter lives than women (hence creating the gender imbalance in the first place) and the benefit a woman can anticipate receiving when she forms a relationship with a man is only a function of how long she expects they will be together.
Perhaps it would be best to think of an old man as an annuity that pays a fixed payment in each period (love, affection, sex) but rather than paying out for predetermined number of periods, the termination period of this asset is uncertain at the point in time that it is purchased. How much a woman is willing to pay for this particular “asset” is not just a function of the fixed (per period) payment but also expected number of payments until termination. Since the number of periods is uncertain when the asset is purchased, women who are risk-averse need to be compensated for assuming the risk that her asset will expire before it she has seen any profit.
This fact should decrease the value of old men on the senior sex market and hand bargaining power back to older women.
If we want to understand how couples that form later in life negotiate within their own relationships, it is interesting to consider the role that male mortality risk plays in allocating bargaining power to women. Maybe, the level of casual sex in senior communities is not just the result of men having the power to pressure women into casual sexual relationships. It could also be because older women are not willing to pay the cost of having a committed relationship with a man she is expected to out-live. If that is the case then causal sexual relationships between seniors are not the result of male promiscuity trumping female needs for commitment, but rather female desire for casual sexual relationships regardless of a male’s willingness to commit to a long-term relationship.
A few years ago, an old friend of my father’s came to tell him that he was ending a relationship with a woman he had been seeing for a few years. When my father asked why they were splitting he responded, “She is only using me for sex.” This man had to have been over 80 when he shared this sad realization with my father.
While he was not my idea of a sex object, he obviously was for someone and for him, at least, that was not good enough.