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Elderly and Erogenous : 'Encore Cafe,' a Pasadena Cable TV Program, Takes a Light, Yet Serious, Look at Senior Citizens and Sexuality

August 28, 1996|MAYRAV SAAR | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

With measured humor, a Pasadena cable program this month lays down the dirt about sex after 60.

"Encore Cafe," a magazine-style program written and hosted by senior citizens, airs several times a week throughout the San Gabriel Valley and in Beverly Hills.

The program, which recently won a Mature Media Gold Award for its World War II commemoration, has handled a variety of issues of interest for its mature audience. But this is the show's first time discussing sex.

"There was the usual type of giggling that goes on when this was brought up," said Don Fenstermaker, 67, referring to the brainstorming session for the episode. "This is a subject that is much tittered about, but not seriously discussed."

The episode, titled "Safe Sex After 60," mixes interviews, anecdotes and survey results to remind older lovers that their needs don't change drastically from 21 to 71.

"Most people, when they get older, complain about what's not happening," said guest Eve Cappello, a relationship expert. "And I think we can take the focus from what's not happening to what we're going to contribute to this [relationship] to make it happen."

She acknowledged that for people who have experienced illnesses, such as prostate or breast cancer, insecurities can make sex nearly impossible. But "it's important to work through those things," Cappello said. "It's like learning to use your arm again after an accident. If you don't use it, you're going to lose it."

The show approached sexuality honestly, but some guests said it didn't go far enough.

"Some of the topics I suggested discussing--AIDS and safe sex--those weren't used . . . probably because people from my era were taught that sex was such a hush-hush thing," said Cappello, who would admit only to being "65-plus."

Its title suggested the show would delve into issues of safe sex, but co-producer Fenstermaker said the word "safe" was added to the name primarily to give it "a good moniker."

"Seniors need to look at the possibility of AIDS and not try to delude themselves that just because they met a guy under good circumstances that he is clean," said Cappello, author of "Act Don't React," which includes a chapter on sexual assertiveness.

Show co-host Les Lisnek, who is "not quite as old as [Ronald] Reagan," said the show struck a good balance between being funny and informative.

As the show's interviewer, Lisnek asked Cappello to elaborate about the dangers of singles' bars and personal ads, methods of meeting commonly used by--but not commonly associated with--senior citizens.

Those methods are "just as prevalent in seniors as [with] younger people," Lisnek said. "There is a tremendous loneliness" through divorce and death, he said. "And people may not be aware of the harmful aspects of such things."

To contrast with the more serious content, man-on-the-street interviews popped up throughout the show. Marje Chase, a red-headed senior with long, bright pink fingernails, stumped pedestrians as they roamed about Old Pasadena.

"What's your idea of sex appeal?" she asked a white-haired fellow in a beige suit and plaid tie.

"Sex appeal?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Sex appeal . . . sex appeal . . . I know I've heard of it," he joked. "I'm sorry, I just can't remember."

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