Every month in Sex at Our Age, award-winning senior sexpert Joan Price answers your questions about everything from loss of desire to solo sex and partner issues. Nothing is out of bounds! To send your questions directly to Joan, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am naive when it comes to sex and at my age, 63, I don’t have anyone that I feel comfortable discussing sex with. I’ve had a few dates with a nice guy that I really like, and I think he likes me as well, but the most physical contact we’ve had was on the last date, when he invited me to his house. We chatted and watched TV together, and I was hoping he’d make a move—I felt awkward about the elephant in the room—but he didn’t, and when I left, he just gave me a peck on the lips and a hug goodbye.
I don’t know how to initiate the next level of the relationship. I’m not unwilling—if he leads, I’ll follow. Maybe he’s thinking the same? I think he’s waiting for me to give him a sign, but I don’t know how. I have never initiated sex and I feel very awkward not knowing what he would think if I did make the first move. If I had the courage, I’d ask him if he feels anxious about having sex. I would want him to know that I am willing to give it a shot if he is.
It might help to know my background. I was happily married for 22 years until my husband died. Two years later I dated a guy who turned out to be a big mistake: a user and a predator. I was so excited to have sexy feelings emerge after the death of my husband that I overlooked all the warning signs. That ended badly, but a couple of years later I started dating a friend. It was a convenient relationship that lasted several years, but the sex became less and less satisfying and other things were problematic, so I finally ended it.
I’m reading your book “Naked at Our Age,” and l can identify with the woman you write about who was raised Catholic in a home where sex was never discussed. You discovered the birds and the bees through your peers and a hidden copy of “The Happy Hooker.”
My sex life has never been very adventuresome. I’m lucky that I’ve never had issues with reaching orgasm–I just would like someone to have them with!–but I’ve always been cautious in relationships, fearing rejection. I appreciate any encouragement you may offer about how to take dating to the next step. –Shy but Game
Joan Price Responds
People of all ages can have trouble taking dating to the next step. When we’re older it’s even harder, because sex is no longer assumed to be in the cards. Most of the time, we don’t know what our date is thinking—you don’t know if this man is shy, anxious, moving slowly or simply not interested. And without knowing your date’s perspective, it’s tough for me to advise you what to say!
It’s possible that he’s anxious about getting sexual. Maybe he’s not sure enough about the relationship and he wants to go more slowly. Like you, he may have had relationships in the past that make him skittish about taking this further. And you don’t know whether he has medical challenges that might affect his sexual functioning and make him worry that he won’t be able to please you.
I think the elephant in the room isn’t sex itself, but more that neither of you is sure how to communicate about sex. The fact that he invited you to his home and you spent your time together watching television indicates that conversation beyond casual chatting is difficult for him, too.
You say, “If he leads, I will follow.” But, as you say, what if he’s waiting for you to lead? The notion you probably grew up with that only the man should initiate sex doesn’t necessarily serve us any more–if it ever did. Good men of our age want to make sure that they don’t appear aggressive and that we’re comfortable with the steps leading to sex. They want sex to be a mutual decision, not Tarzan-gets-Jane. Your date may be looking for signs from you, just as you’re looking for signs from him.
Should you kick off your shoes, pull off your blouse and throw yourself in his arms? No. Subtlety rules–but not so subtle that he can’t read the signals. Here are some ways to communicate your interest. Adapt them to fit your own style:
- Draw him out by verbalizing a common experience, such as, “Nobody ever taught us how to negotiate dating at our age. I find it confusing. Do you?”
- Communicate using “I” statements, such as, “I’m attracted to you and I’m nervous about how to talk about this.”
- Communicate nonverbally with body language. Hold eye contact longer than necessary. Lean in toward him when you talk. Find excuses to touch his hand or arm. With all of these, notice whether he reciprocates or draws away.
- Suggest the next step–something along the lines of, “If you’d enjoy it, I’d like to kiss you.”
- Be considerate: “I’d enjoy holding you—no pressure, we could just see how that feels.” (This may alleviate his concerns if there’s a medical or performance anxiety issue.)
- Be courageous: “If I were interested in making our relationship more physical, how would you like me to communicate that?”
I know you fear rejection, but if you don’t ask, the answer is always no. And if you do ask and the answer is no, then at least it’s clear. You don’t lose anything by gaining clarity, in my view. If this relationship doesn’t work out, you’ve had some practice talking about sex, and the next one will be easier.
If and when you both feel ready to get physically closer, I strongly suggest getting sexual in stages instead of all-or-nothing. I always recommend that when you first get sexual with a new person, you agree that there will be no goals except learning how to give each other pleasure. Specifically, take intercourse off the table for a time. That will slow things down and relieve the performance anxiety. Just concentrate on exploring each other and discovering how you can give and receive sexual enjoyment. Read “A Senior’s Guide to Sex Without Intercourse” on Senior Planet for how to do this and how to talk about it. Also read “Sex Without Penetration: A Man’s View” on my blog, where a man talks about how joyful it is to explore a lover without the goal of intercourse.
Good luck to you, and I hope this helps. You can always show him this Q&A!
Would you like to see more questions and answers? See all of Joan’s advice in Sex@Our Age.
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Joan Price is the author of several books including “The Ultimate Guide to Sex After 50” and the award-winning self-help book “Naked at Our Age.” Visit Joan’s blog, “Naked at Our Age” and her Facebook page. For senior sex news, tips, event and webinar announcements, and special offers, join Joan’s mailing list.