How to rediscover sexual intimacy and passion as you age
by Ellen Uzelac, AARP
Securing an early check-in for Room 200 at a Quality Inn on a nondescript highway at noon was like leading a high-level trade negotiation. It took one reservation clerk and two supervisors to sign off on the only time we had that week to grab an hour of pleasure. Blame it on my raging libido and a scheduling crunch. Motel sex or nothing? Nothing is not the correct answer.
After a five-year sex drought, I am in a sexual relationship again. At times, it’s all I can think about. When I see Ed, the sex usually comes first.
Who knew, in my 60s, that sex could feel this powerful? I had missed my sexual self, and for me now there is a sense of urgency around it that I’ve never experienced before. That urgency only makes the sex hotter. I think Ed would tell you the same.
Sex and intimacy disappeared from my landscape when my husband died. Their presence in my life had in part defined me. So did their absence. At some point, I started referring to myself as “celibate.” It seemed more like a glass half-full approach. It’s just a word but it made me feel better — as though I had agency, a choice in the matter. Then I reconnected with Ed, a man I had profiled for a local magazine decades ago. He’d unearthed the article I’d written during a move and found me.
Finally, I figured, I was having sex again, just like everyone else.
But what I discovered in conversations with friends, sexual wellness professionals and physicians is that a lot of older people in committed relationships aren’t having sex at all. And while many couples are OK with that, others, understandably, are distraught about it.
One man I talked to told me his wife informed him when she turned 60 that she was done with sex. That was eight years ago. A woman I know says she misses the “sex bunny” she used to be but that her sex drive shut down when she was in her mid-50s. As she frames it: “We could do it, but it would be pitiful. You get sore and you get tired. What we’ve got left are memories.”
Another friend, in her 70s, has turned increasingly to self-pleasure as her husband of 50 years continues to withdraw his physical affection. He won’t tell her why.
“Why aren’t we sitting down and figuring it out? Why do we let go of something that’s so rich and powerful and joyful?” she says. “It’s a deep sadness for me.”
Sad, yes—and also the norm for many couples. In fact, a 2018 National Poll on Healthy Aging sponsored by AARP and the University of Michigan found that among men and women ages 65 to 80, only 40 percent were still having sex. Even among those who were in relationships, the rate was a mere 54 percent.
Margery Kates, M.D., my gynecologist, calls the sex drought an epidemic among folks 50 and older. But it’s an epidemic without a name because no one’s talking about it.
“It’s a real problem,” Kates notes. “There’s a lot in the academic literature that’s coming out now. Has that awareness translated to patients? Not really.”
One of the biggest contributors to the sex drought is a failure to communicate. Many of us don’t have the words to express even the simplest concepts and concerns around sex — not to our partners and not to our physicians.
“Sexual health is one of the most challenging things for us to discuss,” says Wendy Strgar, founder of Good Clean Love, a sexual wellness products company in Eugene, Oregon. “So it becomes an avoidance issue. Sex becomes this thing we don’t do.”
And a lot of older couples aren’t doing it in part because of conditions associated with aging that can be easily treated: erectile difficulties, vaginal dryness, a testosterone deficiency, low libido. Once sex becomes a bit challenging, psychological issues can take over, says Irwin Goldstein, M.D., director of San Diego Sexual Medicine. Erectile dysfunction, for example, “can be devastating to a guy,” he says. “If you want to be intimate and you can’t get hard, your entire ego, your value as a male, your self-esteem shatters.”
Fear of discussing sex can be the biggest barrier to having sex, especially when it comes to getting help. “Many men are reluctant to consult with a urologist or sexual medicine physician,” Goldstein says. Yet there’s a whole array of treatments: hormones, ED pills, injectables, vacuum devices, restriction rings and shock wave therapy, among them. “If a man has a penis, then a man can get an erection,” he says. “There are very few who can’t be treated.”
There are also medical conditions—a bad back or arthritis, for example—that can make it difficult to have sex. In that event, couples may opt to explore what the sexual wellness community calls outercourse: masturbation, oral sex, cuddling, rubbing, fantasizing, sex toys.
I had forgotten how warm and wonderful it feels to want and to be wanted. When I drive to Ed’s, my body often tingles in anticipation. No wonder sex is good for you. Among many other well-documented health benefits, it improves sleep, clears the mind, releases natural painkillers and creates a sense of well-being that, for me, is like no other.
I spoke to Abraham Morgentaler, M.D., the author of The Truth About Men and Sex: Intimate Secrets from the Doctor’s Office and an associate professor of urology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School in Boston. “Sex is this magic sauce for couples. It’s something that is not only incredibly intimate, but it involves a primitive part of our brain that creates this sense of partnership, exclusivity and intimacy. Once that disappears in a relationship, a lot is lost.”
I know what that loss feels like. To be on the other side of it is magical, as Morgentaler says. But it took some work to get here. I, like most women my age, experience vaginal dryness that can make sexual intercourse painful. A medically prescribed estrogen cream and an over-the-counter lubricant have been game changers. And I’m not the only one experiencing a sexual renaissance: Despite the fact that older women have less sex than men, a study by the National Council on Aging found that women in their 60s often rated their physical satisfaction with sex as equal to or better than it was in their 40s.
Yet many of us remain uninformed about our sexual health as we age. But we can take some lessons from those around us, who have made it work, joyfully.
The author at home on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
by Stephanie Diani
Feature Photo by Hannah Whitaker
#Sex, #SexForSeniors, #Seniors, #AARP, #EllenUzelac, #Relationships, #Intimacy, #Awareness, #DateNight, #Staycation, #HelpfulTips, #Options, #SelfHelp