In her article Why We Should All Be Talking About Sex A Lot More Often, sex educator Kate McCombs interviewed other sex educators to get their take on the importance of talking about sex. Linda Kirkman’s response reflects the reasons I think encouraging older women to talk about sex is important: "to normalize talking about sex and sexuality, to reduce stigma, and to promote good health and happiness. Silence can breed stigma, shame, and anxiety; therefore, talking about sex can help alleviate all that heaviness."
I am a sex educator and writer with a focus on midlife women - a category in which I include myself. I talk about sex as a way of encouraging others to talk about it too. I talk about sex with the goal of helping people bring pleasure into their lives. Knowledge is powerful and although older adults may be afraid to ask for the information they need, when we can equip them with that knowledge, we can help them create happier lives.
Does Age Matter When We’re Talking about Sex?
The question is, does the conversation change when talking sex with menopausal women? Or do they need the same advice and resources as 25-40 year olds? The answer is yes to both of those. Midlife women fall roughly between the ages of 40 and 60. Women of this age may be approaching menopause and women in the upper age range have grown up in a time when sex wasn’t talked about as openly as it is today. Back then, sex education was basic at best, and women were encouraged to save themselves for marriage. Even though the '60s brought about an increase in sexual exploration for many people, and the book "Our Bodies, Ourselves" (1969) gave us eye-opening information, many women in their 50s and older still lack basic knowledge about their sexuality. Some women of this age may have never looked at their labia, might not know how to stimulate their clitoris and may even feel ashamed of their inability to have an orgasm.
I often get emails from women with questions or concerns about their loss of sexual desire. Common statements include, "I’ve lost all interest in sex," "intercourse hurts, so I've quit trying," "I’m over 50 and I’ve never had an orgasm," and "my partner has ED so we can’t have sex." These women feel alone and embarrassed, and these feelings are reinforced when they don’t hear their peers talking about positive sexual experiences.
Providing accurate, positive information for older women is just as important as sex education for teens and young adults. So what do they want and need to know about sex? Here are a few essentials.
Reassurance That Sexual Pleasure Is Attainable
At a time in life when many women find themselves divorced, widowed or otherwise unpartnered, there should be sex-positive messages that encourage women to seek out pleasure. When presented with the facts and tools for safe practices, sex is a healthy and delightful activity at all ages.
The Importance of Sex to Vaginal Health
Women need to understand the importance of remaining sexually active in order to promote vaginal health. Menopause does bring about changes to our bodies, but it is not an illness or a medical condition. Menopause is a natural aging process and something to be embraced and understood. Sexual arousal helps with issues related to hormonal changes during menopause. Arousal increases the flow of blood to vaginal tissues, helping to stimulate lubrication and strengthen the vaginal walls. Solo or partner sex helps to keep tissues supple and is a good preventative measure for vaginal atrophy or painful sex. (Check out our Top Solo Sex Tips for Women for insight on how to have fun doing it.)
Sex Is Good for Our General Health
People who report having satisfactory sex have a greater sense of wellbeing overall. Research shows that maintenance of an active sex life can help us live longer, happier lives. Sex helps reduce stress, strengthens the heart, lowers blood pressure, stimulates the release of oxytocin - the feel-good hormone - and offers many other benefits that contribute to our health. (Read more about why orgasms are good for your health in The 10 Surprising Health Benefits of Orgasms.)
A Life Enhanced by PleasureLast and perhaps most importantly, no matter how we define it, sex brings us great pleasure. While it may seem intuitive, older women don’t always view sex in such a positive light.
This statement from Stephanie A. Sanders, associate director of The Kinsey Institute, sums it up nicely: "There is no age limit on sexuality and sexual activity. While the frequency or ability to perform sexually will generally decline modestly as seniors experience the normal physiological changes that accompany aging, reports show that the majority of men and women between the ages of 50 and 80 are still enthusiastic about sex and intimacy."
Here's to a long and happy sex life.