There are so many misconceptions about sex and aging. Popular culture throws it in our face on a daily basis.
So, You Think You're Too Old for Sex?
Getting old is a bad thing.
We are past our prime.
The problem comes when we start believing the myths and view ourselves as undesirable. What we don’t realize is that we have incorporated, subconsciously, some of those beliefs. And they hold us back.
We worry about being of little value. We worry about how we appear to our partners. We worry about our beauty, and our desirability. More specifically:
- Women may worry about being seen as desirable by men and by society.
- Men worry about the reliability of their erections.
- Women worry that menopausal changes will lead to uncomfortable or painful sex, during penetration.
- We all worry that our soft, aging bodies will be perceived as unattractive and undesirable.
- We worry that aches and pains, arthritic knees and possible health issues mean we can’t enjoy sex.
These Myths Makes Us Want to Avoid Sex
When we buy into those myths and fears we begin to fear or avoid sex. If you’re newly single, whether from divorce or the death of a spouse, dating and intimacy feel intimidating. And once a person stops having sex, it becomes challenging to find your way back to sexual desire and pleasure.
In a conversation with a recent widower, he shared with me that after several years of no sexual activity while caregiving for his spouse, he wasn’t sure how or if he could regain his sexual desire. It’s a common worry for anyone coming back to the sexual arena after years without intimacy. The issues related to caregiving, the loss of a loved one, a lessening of desire, and the effects of aging all combine to create enormous mental and physical roadblocks.
The physical challenges to being sexual again can be small inconveniences or significant obstacles. Fortunately, there are practical workarounds and adaptations you can adopt to help with the physical issues. Even so, fears and self-negating beliefs will make it harder to approach sex again.
When I talk to groups about sex after age 50, I encourage folks to expand their definitions of pleasure, to think beyond the traditional penis-in-vagina (penetrative) sex. When we start to focus on pleasure rather than goal-oriented, performance-based sex we discover a wide range of ways to feel pleasure in our bodies - and with a partner.
Read: Casual Sex? At Our Age?
How to Reignite Sexual Desire
Here are a few idea you can use to reignite sexual desire:
Develop a Self-Pleasuring Practice
"Self pleasuring" is a term I prefer over "masturbation." Explore your body’s capacity for pleasure. Begin to caress and engage with your body. You can look at what has changed, due to absence or aging, and figure out what you want now. Aside from reacquainting yourself with your body again, self-pleasure provides useful information to share with a partner when you’re ready.
Masturbating, or self-pleasuring, helps you learn how your body responds to pleasure. Our wants and needs change over the years, just as our reactions and responses do. It is the same with desire - our ability to orgasm or feel pleasure may be different.
Some women say it takes them longer to orgasm as they age; others report no difference. Men who haven't had sex for a long period may discover their erections aren't as strong or dependable. Women who don’t include some type of vaginal penetration when self-pleasuring may find that thinning vaginal tissues make penetration tender or painful. Just as with any physical activity, we need to exercise our muscles to keep them fit and responsive.
Think About the Kind of Intimacy You Actually Want
If you’re not ready for full-on sex, think about the specific kind of intimacy you want. You can start slowly with hand holding or flirtatious communications. You can ask to cuddle and hug. Instead of moving straight to sex, why not negotiate an evening of caressing and intimacy that does not involve full intimate contact? The goal is to dictate the pace that makes you feel safe and comfortable and eases you back into sexual intimacy.
Rushing to have sex, or giving into a partner’s pressure, could make sex less desirable. So think about what you want and make sure your partner is willing to respect your desires.
Read: Redefining What S-E-X Means As We Age
Look Into Your Baggage Around Sex and Sexuality
Writing is my go-to tool for erasing old stories and unearthing issues I didn’t even realize I continued to hold. If you’re striving to have sex again here are a few suggestions from my book, "Inviting Desire, A Guide for Women Who Want to Enhance Their Sex Lives."
Take some time to write down the answers to the following questions:
- Is having sex important to you?
- If you’re not having sex, why? Can you list the reasons? Was this your decision or your partner’s? Do you feel that something is missing without sexual intimacy in your life?
- What can you do to invite sexual pleasure into your life? Get specific here and list two or three steps. For example, you could start with something as simple as getting a massage. Start with what feels comfortable for you and move on from there.
Be gentle with yourself while adopting the attitude that sexual pleasure can enhance your life - whether it is solo sex or with a partner. And have fun.
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 and Twitter. Website: www.walkerthornton.com