Redefining What S-E-X Means As We Age

Published: JANUARY 25, 2016 | Updated: APRIL 16, 2020
Letting go of a narrow definition of sex allows you to embrace a wider of array of pleasurable, intimate moments.

Sex is typically defined as penis-in-vagina (PIV), or "penetrative sex." It’s what we were taught growing up, and it’s still considered by many heterosexual adults to be the primary and preferred form of sex.


Yet, as we grow older, there are drawbacks to penetrative sex. And, at any age, restricting "sex" to penis-in-vagina eliminates the myriad of ways that we can experience pleasure. After all, it's pleasure we’re seeking when we approach intimacy with someone, right? That's why it's important to redefine the way we think about sex as we age, and to learn to embrace new kinds of intimacy.

Why Sex Should Be Redefined as We Age

There are many reasons to think outside of the box (pun!) as we talk about sex in midlife and beyond. Statements like, “He has erectile dysfunction so we can’t have sex anymore,” or “Menopause has caused me to dry up so much that sex is painful,” point out the negatives of the PIV sexual preference. Just because vaginas dry up or penises get soft doesn't mean we have to close the door on our sex lives. Rather, we are called to become more creative and expansive in thinking about how we give and receive pleasure.

Here's a thought: Pleasure need not be defined by penetration, ejaculation or orgasm. I’m not saying that an explosive moment isn’t extremely satisfying, but it is important to think about the pleasure to be had in the journey. Why give up all pleasure just because the way you’ve always had sex no longer works for you?


Sexual Concerns Lead to Shifting Expectations About Sex and Pleasure

Statistics from a study conducted by the University of Chicago looked at sexually related concerns of over 3,000 adults over 50; many of the complaints expressed by male and female participants were related to penetrative sex. The main concerns expressed were about the ability to ejaculate, performance, painful sex, or excessive dryness, all of which are related to penetrative sex. All of these concerns can result in one or both parties being focused on their anxieties, which only serves to take them out of a pleasurable moment by fearing that sex will be unsatisfactory.

Trial and error, willingness to experiment, and a shift in expectations are required in many areas as we age. We modify exercise routines, start wearing reading glasses, and make other accommodations for the changes in our desires and capabilities. So why wouldn't we do the same in our sex lives? If we give up all intimacy because one particular act isn’t working, we’re depriving ourselves of the joys and benefits of sexual intimacy - of all kinds.

Sex Is More Than Penetration

The answer to keeping intimacy alive as we age lies in thinking about sex as more than penetration.

  • Penetration is not required for either partner to have an orgasm. In most cases, women aren’t reaching orgasm from PIV sex without additional stimulus anyway.
  • The typical male climaxes in under 10 minutes. A focus on mutual exploration and pleasure can last for a much longer period of time.
  • Cuddling, nibbling, stroking, massaging and kissing are all highly pleasurable intimate acts.
  • Soft penises enjoy being stroked, licked and played with - often to ejaculation if desired.
  • Oral sex or manual stimulation of a woman’s clitoris is much more likely to bring her to orgasm than thrusting a penis in and out for a few minutes.
  • Sex toys, for men and women, are a wonderful supplement to pleasuring a partner.

The best sex we can have occurs as a result of our desire to give pleasure to our partners. Intimate moments should always be focused on what we can do that is pleasurable. When limitations arise, think about other ways to connect, rather than focusing on limitations.

Explore With Questions

Looking for new ways to find pleasure with your partner. Here are some questions to ask:

  • What kind of touch do you like?
  • Can I stroke, nibble, bite, tickle, kiss you here, or in this way?
  • How do you want me to play with you?
  • What would you like today?
  • May I do this to or with you?

Engage in a conversation about what sounds pleasing to the two of you. It may be a new experience for you to give up the idea of always having penetrative sex, and you might be surprised at how much more fun this giving of pleasure can be. Let go of the idea of sex as "this" or "that" and rather think of S-E-X as a wonderful series of intimate moments for both of you..

Walker Thornton

Walker Thornton is a 61-year-old sex writer, educator and public speaker. She has ranked in the Kinkly Sex Blogging Superheroes for the last three years. Walker has spoken at national sexuality conferences, speaking on midlife sexuality. She is a member of the Leadership Committee of the Sexuality and Aging Consortium at Widener University. Walker writes for Midlife Boulevard, Senior Planet and other websites and online magazines. You can connect with her on Facebook...

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