In 1962 Helen Gurley Brown created a publishing hit with Sex and the Single Girl, a work of non-fiction that advocated for women’s financial independence and sexual experience prior to or without marriage. It sold 2 million copies in 3 weeks, clearly filling a need.
In 2015 Netflix released the first season of Grace and Frankie, a series about 2 unlikely friends who are come together when they each divorce their husbands. In the 2nd season the friends decide to market a vibrator designed for older women who have with typical issues of aging, arthritis and vaginal dryness.
It took 53 years for popular culture to recognize something that sex therapists have known for a long time: aging doesn’t mean the end of sexuality! Of course television has been inundated with direct to consumer advertising for erectile dysfunction since PDe5 was discovered as a treatment for the disorder. And its difficult to avoid commercials for “low T” these days, even though the data about testosterone for older men is questionable. More accurately, the data about how many men would actually benefit from the use of these medications is confusing. Nevertheless if you pay attention to the advertising you’d think that every man past the age of 45 has some sexual disorder. But I digress.
We’ve known for years that sex needn’t end because you’ve reached Medicare age! But the message hasn’t always been clear and it seems that women are better prepared for the changes that occur with age than are men. In all likelihood this is because women who have routine reproductive health care are informed about the changes that occur with menopause and can begin to think about how they might modify their sexual activity to maintain a level of satisfaction. Men, on the other hand, typically don’t get this attention to their reproductive and sexual system. Consequently, the information about normal changes doesn’t get delivered except in alarming ways.
What can you expect about your sexual activities as you age? As with all things that are older, they may take longer to get going. For women this means that vaginal lubrication will be reduced and the vaginal lining will thin, perhaps causing uncomfortable intercourse. Men can experience longer times to achieve an erection and it might not be as firm or last as long as earlier in life. The impact of medications or chronic medical conditions can also play a role in changes. None of these situations requires the end of sexual activity though.
Lubricants for women can make intercourse more comfortable. More foreplay, hugging, kissing and stroking can help with erectile difficulties and introduce a different form of pleasuring to a couple’s repertoire. Some couples find that intercourse is less satisfying and find greater pleasure with oral sex or masturbation. “Outercourse” can be an adequate substitute for intercourse!
Understanding what activities are most comfortable and when you enjoy them is an important piece of information to share with a partner. Its also important to have realistic expectations about what constitutes good sex. Good sex has no gold standards to be met. Most people do not have mind numbing, earth shattering, simultaneous orgasms with intercourse no matter what you’ve seen on television or in the movies! Good sex is not performance but rather a shared experience of mutually satisfying and pleasurable activities.
There are reliable resources available if you want to learn more about what happens to sex as we age. The National Institute on Aging has a page dedicated to sexuality in later life (https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/sexuality-later-life). AARP offers discussion of 5 myths about sex and aging (http://www.aarp.org/relationships/love-sex/info-05-2011/sex-myths.html). Other reputable sites have similar material for those without access to other resources.
Of course, consultation with a professional experienced in working with sexual issues across the age spectrum is a good idea if you have a problem you aren’t able to solve on your own or with a partner. Look for a therapist who specializes in sexual problems. Interview them on the phone before making an appointment to see if you feel comfortable with them and their experience in the area.
The following organizations offer referral to specialists:
AASECT, The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists- https://www.aasect.org/referral-directory
The American Board of Sexology. http://americanboardofsexology.com/certif.html