Certified sex coach Jane Steckbeck has one question for young people who are grossed out by the idea of old folks like their parents having sex. “So,” she’ll ask, “when exactly do you plan on stopping?”
End of conversation, it would seem — yet also a way to open up dialogue about the oddly difficult and infinitely complex matter of sex and sexuality as we age.
Steckbeck is holding a five-week course on “Intimacy after 50: Positive, Pleasurable — Uniquely Yours,” which seeks to explore topics that are seriously underrepresented in our youth-obsessed culture, such as what happens to our bodies later in life and how do we continue to engage in (or resuscitate) a sex life that is at once safe and fun.
Classes take place 6 pm Mondays, Feb. 20 through March 20, at Eugene’s As You Like It sex-positive “pleasure shop,” where Steckbeck works part-time doing customer service. She also writes the store’s blog and is on the board of directors for Planned Parenthood in Lane County.
“There’s a huge reluctance to talk about sex,” she says, especially among older generations. “We think it should come naturally to us, and our culture tells us that. In reality, we’re very different, and that can change over time. When we can sit down and talk about that, we can have much deeper erotic encounters.”
Granting, then, the shocking truth that your grandparents still hump, Steckbeck hopes with her workshops to shine a light on topics ranging from male impotence and vaginal pain to communication and safe sex. She says she’s talked to a number of women over 50 who’ve contracted sexually transmitted infections, surprisingly enough — a fact that speaks to a lack of openness and education among the Boomer set.
For instance, here she is on the ubiquity of Viagra as a panacea to so-called erectile dysfunction: “Taking a blue pill does not solve the problem. The problem is not the penis. The problem is usually a lack of communication. As long as somebody doesn’t have a medical problem, there are solutions.”
Part of her mission, then, is to cut through the fog and help older folks take control of their own bodies and how they talk about and enjoy them.
“I want to help people to have empowered conversations,” Steckbeck says, “not just to empower themselves but to have better experiences overall.”
Steckbeck herself came to a sexual awakening later in life. After 18 years at the University of Oregon Law School, she “embarked on a very profound healing journey” when she attended a sex workshop that “just kind of kicked open a whole long process of sexual healing.”
That was ten years ago. She left her job at the law school and, after six months of courses, became a certified sex coach and sexologist. “I began to understand how my perspective had been completely warped by culture, religion, a Midwestern upbringing,” she explains. “I decided I wanted to help people heal.”
Steckbeck, who is 55 and has been married for 26 years, says that as a “sex-positive sex abuse survivor” she has become immersed in “this whole world of learning how outside factors influence our sexuality,” with a focus on helping people reclaim what she calls “empowered sexuality.”
To that end, Steckbeck praises As You Like It, a sex-positive, clean and healthy pleasure store that strives to break from the prevalent stereotype of the sticky, glum-lit back-alley porn shop. “Every person in this community can feel comfortable walking into here, with it being light and comfortable and supportive,” she says.
“It really is cool when a 75-year-old couple comes in holding hands and they’re there to buy a vibrator for her,” Steckbeck says. “There isn’t anywhere else in Eugene that can do that.”
The classes themselves will take place right in the store, with chairs set up in a circle to facilitate intimate and open conversation as guided by Steckbeck. “We pussyfoot around these issues, and in workshop I want to stop being so tentative,” she says. “Let’s dive in and start talking about it. Instead of spending an hour talking about why it’s so hard to talk about, let’s just start talking about it.”
Steckbeck’s five-week “Intimacy after 50” workshop takes place 6 pm Mondays, Feb. 20-March 20, at As You Like It, 1655 W. 11th Ave.; $15 per class, $50 for the whole series, more info at asyoulikeitshop.com or 541-606-0553. Planned Parenthood also has a series of Tuesday classes, “The Heart Has No Wrinkles: Sexuality and Intimacy in the Later Years,” currently in progress and taking place Tuesdays through Feb. 28; more info at plannedparenthood.org.