Let’s get one misconception out of the way. Sex without intercourse is still sex. Real sex. Satisfying sex. Hot sex. The idea that only intercourse constitutes “real sex” limits our creativity and our satisfaction.
Sex is any activity that arouses you and brings you sexual pleasure.
Here are some reasons why we should expand our exploration of sex beyond penetration— especially as we age:
9 Reasons to Try Sex Without Penetration
- Your skin is your largest sex organ. Your body is a wonderland of sensation. Seeing sexual expression as solely one set of genitals entering another set of genitals limits the possibilities of sex.
- Erections may become undependable as we age. If we limit our sexual expression to penetration, we’ll have less sex.
- Anxiety about erections being hard enough or lasting long enough causes even more erectile undependability. Performance anxiety is an erection killer.
- Medical issues – age-related or not – may make intercourse impossible. We have to switch to a different kind of sex, or we won’t have sex at all.
- Penetration may become uncomfortable or even painful for many women as we age. Our vaginas are drier and the tissues are thinner. Even if we use plenty of lubricant, as we should (see A Senior’s Guide to Lubrication on SeniorPlanet.org), extended intercourse can still be uncomfortable if not painful..
- Some 75 percent of women do not reach orgasm solely through intercourse, and this percentage is likely higher in older women, although I haven’t found research comparing orgasms through intercourse in older vs. younger women. (Researchers: please ask us!)
- The clitoris, not the vagina, is the pleasure place for most women. Many women find intercourse very pleasurable and exciting but still require clitoral stimulation; for others, clitoral pleasure is the main event.
- When men rely on erectile performance drugs like Viagra or Cialis, they may find sex less satisfying, because although the drugs give them erections, they don’t increase libido. Trying to reach orgasm may take longer (see “Desperately Seeking Orgasm: Help for an Older Man” on SeniorPlanet.org). This can get uncomfortable or painful for women partners (see #5).
- When men rely on erectile performance drugs, their partners may find sex less satisfying because they feel that it’s all about the erection and not about pleasure. (See “How to Have Satisfying Sex When Your Man Uses Viagra” on SeniorPlanet.org)
With all of these issues, it makes sense for older people especially to concentrate on what brings us the most delightful sensations. Judging sexual success by whether or not the penis was hard enough or the vagina receptive or responsive enough just adds stress. Try taking the focus off intercourse and focusing on goal-free sensation and pleasure instead.
Sexual Expression Without Penetration: What to Do Instead
One of the biggest problems with focusing our sexuality on penetration is that it makes us ignore all the other ways we can express ourselves sexually, arouse each other, share intimacy and enjoy orgasms. So instead of holding on to that old notion that penis-in-vagina (PIV) is the be-all and end-all of partner sex, let’s expand our ideas to encompass all the marvelous ways we can be sexual together that don’t require PIV.
If you’re not having intercourse, what are you doing instead? There are many options. Some will be perfect for you, while others might not attract you. There’s no “wrong” way to express yourself sexually as long as it’s consensual and enjoyable. Learn, sample, experiment and create your own menu of possibilities.
Here are some non-PIV ways to enjoy sex:
- Explore each other’s entire bodies. Our skin is our largest sex organ. Invite your partner to touch your body all over—no goals, just pleasure. On a different day, switch to exploring your partner. Whether you’ve known each other for a long time or just a little while, this is the body you live in now, and there’s plenty to discover about how it looks and responds.
- Share sensual, full-body massage. Use a nice massage oil and take plenty of time massaging your partner’s whole body. Your goal is to give delicious, relaxing pleasure. Try to tune into your partner’s responses, noting sighs and moans and the quickening or slowing of your partner’s breathing. A full-body massage may lead to arousal and even orgasm – or it may just be a relaxing end in itself. Either way, it’s fine!
- Explore new erogenous zones. Our erogenous zones can change as we age. The way to discover what turns you on now is to let go of the notions of where you’re “supposed” to feel stimulation and, instead, try touching new spots to see how you respond, whether solo or with a partner. Now you’re actively seeking the spots that you or your partner find arousing. Let yourself be surprised by your own reactions and your partner’s.
- Explore new ways to touch: lighter or harder, faster or slower, direct or teasing. Sometimes the difference between getting aroused or not is not where you touch as much as how you touch. Give and ask for feedback to communicate how fast and how much pressure feels good. What you find exciting may change as you get aroused. For example, you might like having your breasts stroked all over slowly when you’re starting out, and as excitement builds, you might like your nipples pinched. Or you might not like direct clitoral stimulation until you’re fully aroused, and then you do want it. We’re all different – there’s no “right” way to enjoy touching. Help your partner know what works to excite you starting out, then once you’re aroused, and then when you’re close to orgasm.
- Use your mouth. Oral sex is king! All genders find that the combination of the warmth, pressure and wetness of the mouth with the movement of the tongue invites us to orgasm better than intercourse. Oral sex isn’t just foreplay – it can be the main event. Be willing to give your partner feedback about what feels good.
- Use your hands. Especially after plenty of all-over touching, stimulating the vulva or penis with hand and fingers can bring you to a strong orgasm. We may call them “hand jobs,” but I prefer to think of this practice as “hand joys.” Again, communicate with your partner about what you like – the whole hand circling your vulva, for example, or one or two fingers stimulating your clitoris. What rhythm do you like – slow and steady, maybe, or fast pulsing, or cha-cha-cha, or …? If you’re pleasuring a penis with your hand, have your partner show you how he likes it.
- Use sex toys. A well-chosen, well-placed vibrator can be the difference between orgasm and no orgasm. It’s sometimes that simple. If you’ve been reluctant to try a vibrator, there’s no better time than the present. Whether you like clitoral stimulation or the feeling of a full vagina or both, a well-designed vibrator can give you the intensity you need for orgasm. Sex toys for penises are just as important and pleasurable as they are for vulvas. See my Senior’s Guide to Vibrators for a helpful introduction, and my sex toy reviews at com for specific recommendations.
- Share masturbation. We know our own bodies best. Many couples find it very intimate to enjoy self-pleasuring together – you pleasure yourself, your partner does the same, and you either watch each other simultaneously or take turns. Masturbating together can be a joyful experience, and we can also use it to teach each other how we like to be pleasured.
- Explore anal pleasure/ prostate massage. The anus is alive with pleasurable nerve endings in people of all genders and orientations, and anal stimulation can heighten or cause an orgasm. For men who still have prostates, prostate massage with a finger or an anal sex toy (with a flared base) can be intensely erotic and orgasm-inducing.
- Explore Tantra. Tantra is an ancient Hindu practice of combining the physical and spiritual into a slowed down, high-consciousness, meditative sexual practice. Many people over 60 report that their sexual connection with their partner is greatly enhanced after taking classes and reading books about how to do this (see my resources list, below).
Let go of goals – focus on pleasure. As sex and relationship coach Charlie Glickman, PhD puts it, “Sex is a lot like a buffet. We have so many different choices for pleasure and intimacy. Intercourse is a popular dish and it’s a favorite for many people. But there’s no reason to skip past all the other options or consider them only as appetizers. When you do that, you miss out on discovering lots of other delicious possibilities!”
Take Your Time
You’re learning new skills, plus your arousal is slower than it used to be, so be patient with yourself and your partner. “Slower arousal can honestly be a blessing in disguise, as it can be a great way to incorporate toys, more foreplay, and build communication and intimacy with a partner,” says Sarah Elizabeth Mueller, Lead Education and Research developer at The Smitten Kitten. “Pretty much all folks who are aging experience changes in their sexual function, desire, and therefore in their sexual and/or romantic relationships. Change is inevitable, but embracing change and discovering new ways to experience pleasure can be amazing and as exciting as first sexual experiences were.”
Sexual Expression Without Penetration: Getting Comfortable
Let’s look at some ways to prepare before we even get naked. Make some of these intimate activities a habit – they’ll nurture intimacy and improve your sexual responsiveness:
- Touch a lot during non-sexual times. Hold hands. Stand and sit close to each other. Remember when you were first dating, and you couldn’t bear to have an inch of space separating you? Whether you’ve been together for a year or half a century, reclaim that awareness of how good your bodies feel when they’re close and not having sex.
- Eye gaze. Take time just to look into each other’s eyes, which some call the windows to the soul. Try to get your awareness away from yourself (how do I look? what does my partner see?) and focus on your lover.
- Spend lots of time kissing. Kissing doesn’t have to lead to sex – though it might. Kissing stimulates the brain and revs up the sex drive, as well as bonding you with your partner. For extra intimacy and excitement, try relaxing into your kissing and breathing in sync.
How Do We Talk About This?
If you’re in a relationship that has been focused on intercourse, it may be awkward at first to try to switch or expand your repertoire to these other means of sexual expression. You might like to start this way:
- First talk honestly about why you feel it’s important to explore new modes of physical intimacy. Ask to hear your partner’s feelings and really listen, without interrupting or judging.
- Schedule two dates that you agree will be sexual pleasure dates without intercourse:
- The first time, you’ll explore how to give your partner pleasure. You’d like your partner to receive, enjoy, and not try to reciprocate.
- The second time, you’ll be the one to receive pleasure. You’d like your partner to be the giver and not expect you to reciprocate.
- Give each other plenty of feedback in the moment about what feels good, using words, gestures, moans, etc.
- Talk later about what you both experienced. What was it like? What did you learn as the receiver? What did you learn as the giver? What did you enjoy enough to keep in your repertoire? What would you like to try next?
Whether you’re in a long-term relationship or just becoming sexual with a new person, communication is key. It’s essential that we learn to communicate about our needs and desires and elicit this from a partner, especially when what brings us pleasure is changing with the years.
Negotiating Better Sex
Sometimes sex is a negotiation, especially with a new partner. What do you like? What do you need to reach orgasm? What is uncomfortable for you physically or emotionally? What is absolutely off-limits? What are you nervous about trying, but maybe you’d be willing?
Sex columnist Dan Savage said this in a recent podcast:
“Straight people should take from gay people these four magic words: “What are you into?” That question, when two guys are going to have sex, is always asked. When it’s a man and a woman, all too often, consent is granted and then all communication ceases. What’s happening next is assumed: if it’s heterosexual sex, it’s penis in vagina.
“We don’t have that default assumption in gay land. When two guys say yes to sex, it’s the beginning of a whole other conversation. Everything has to be discussed and negotiated. Asking “What are you into?” is so empowering, because at that moment, you can rule anything in and anything out. It’s a sexy negotiation. Straight people sometimes say to me, I wish I could have more sex. I say, ‘You could, if you had a broader definition of sex.’”
If you can ask for what you want, you’re more likely to get it than if you keep wishing that your partner could read your mind. Likewise, if you don’t ask or encourage your partner to share what feels good, you’ll rely on what used to work, without ever discovering how sensations and erogenous zones might have changed.
Which of these approaches might fit your style?
- “I’d love it if you’d touch me this way.”
- “Could we try…?”
- “What would you like?”
- “Show me what feels good to you.”
- “Show me how you pleasure yourself.”
If You’re Starting a New Relationship
If you and your partner are new to each other, you’ll have additional considerations. How and when will you bring up your sexual needs and limitations? If intercourse will be problematic or not an option, how and when do you put that on the table?
I suggest bringing it up early, as soon as you see that the relationship is headed toward sex.
Rather than frame your need or desire for sex without penetration as a sad limitation or an apology, word it in a positive way, such as some variation of these statements:
- I’m very attracted to you. Intercourse is not possible for me, but I’d love to explore all the other ways we can enjoy each other.
- I’m excited about where this is leading. Can we explore how to make love to each other without the goal of intercourse?
- I have to tell you that we might not be able to have intercourse. But, if you’d enjoy it, I’d love to use my mouth and hand to satisfy you.
Exploration is Sexy
“For many queer and disabled people, sex without intercourse isn’t about broadening our sexual repertoire but acknowledging the varied kinds of sex we’re already having,” Bianca Palmisano, sex educator, medical consultant and owner of Intimate Health Consulting says. “Only a small percentage of our intimacy involves inserting tab A into slot B. Sometimes that’s because we don’t have the ‘right’ equipment or enough energy for penetration, but frequently it’s because there’s plenty of other avenues keeping us entertained. We have fingers and tongues and dirty thoughts and pretty underwear. It’s not a loss when we have sex without penetration, we’re just busy exploring all the other beautiful pieces of our sexuality.”
And as one of my readers, age 65, told me in an email, “Once I realized what real sex was, I realized the goal is the journey, not the destination. It is all about the two beings connecting. It is only secondarily about the bodies. The basic building block is the connection between the two live beings.”
- Stella Harris, “Can’t Get Hard? 8 Tips for a Steamy, Sexy Good Time Anyway”
- Cory Silverberg, “Exploring Sex and Intimacy Without Intercourse”
- Dr. Patti Britton, “On Prostate Pleasure”
- Michael Castleman M.A., “Sex Without Intercourse: A Hot Option for Lovers of All Ages”
- “Tantric Sexuality” at SexInfoOnline
- “Great Sex Made Simple: Tantric Tips to Deepen Intimacy & Heighten Pleasure.” Mark A. Michaels and Patricia Johnson. Llewellyn, 2012.
- “The Joy of Sex: The Ultimate Revised Edition.” Alex Comfort. Harmony, 2009.
- “She Comes First: The Thinking Man’s Guide to Pleasuring a Woman.” Ian Kerner. (Harper Collins, 2009.
- “The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women.” Tristan Taormino. Cleis Press, 2006.
- “The Ultimate Guide to Cunnilingus: How to Go Down on a Woman and Give Her Exquisite Pleasure.” Violet Blue. Cleis Press, 2002.
- “The Ultimate Guide to Prostate Pleasure: Erotic Exploration for Men and Their Partners.” Charlie Glickman and Aislinn Emirzian. Cleis Press, 2013.
- “The Ultimate Guide to Sex after 50: How to Maintain – or Regain! – a Spicy, Satisfying Sex Life.” Joan Price. Cleis Press, 2015.
Send Joan your questions by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. All information is confidential.
Joan Price is the author of the new “Ultimate Guide to Sex After 50: How to Maintain – or Regain! – a Spicy, Satisfying Sex Life”; the award-winning self-help book “Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex”; and the sexy memoir, “Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex After Sixty.” Visit Joan’s blog, “Naked at Our Age,” and her Facebook page.