May is Older Americans Month and the fourth anniversary of my Sex at Our Age column for Senior Planet. In these four years, you’ve sent me problems and questions, and I’ve offered advice. This month, though, you — my readers — are writing this column. I invited my newsletter subscribers to tell me what you’ve learned about sex lately that has enhanced your sex life. The responses illustrate how far we’ve come in acknowledging that seniors are full human beings with sexual needs and desires, and how we are empowering ourselves to fulfill them.
Enjoy Sex Without Penetration: When penis-in-vagina (PIV) intercourse is no longer dependable or possible, it’s an opportunity to explore sex without penetration, which you may find gloriously satisfying. Here’s what readers said:
- I’ve learned that sex without penetration provides me and my partner with at least as much core-shaking pleasure as does PIV. Both are very nice, but my notion of “real sex” has broadened to center now on sex without penetration.
- My wife and I enjoyed a comfortable, mostly vanilla sex life for 45 years, and then it ceased after I lost the ability to provide a lasting erection. We accepted that as an inevitable, age-related thing and believed that sex without penile penetration was not complete. Research, including your blog and your book, opened my mind to the idea that sexual gratification for older folks was healthy, desirable, and neither inappropriate nor impossible without an erection.
- You may have issues maintaining an erection hard enough for sustained penetration. PIV sex is not the only way to have sex. You can have extraordinary pleasure and orgasms even with a soft penis.
- At 65, I’ve learned a more expansive idea of sex, one that isn’t so genitally focused. Every part of my body can be an erogenous zone. My partner and I enjoy hours of pleasuring each other, engaging in “outercourse”: manual, oral, and anal stimulation. We may have a single orgasm and continue pleasuring. We might enjoy several orgasms, or one extended orgasm. We have more of a sense of play and exploration.
Overcome Challenges: Yes, aging brings obstacles to good sex. That’s no reason to give up. Instead, explore solutions, as these readers did:
- I honestly didn’t know our sex drives would slow down. Nobody tells you that a strong libido has a shelf life. Realizing that the days of spontaneous combustion were over for both of us, I felt like I’d been ripped off by life. With time, laughter, tears, and a lot of talking and thinking — plus a vibrator, erotica, and soft porn — my husband and I created a place where sex is a wonderful mini-vacation where we give and receive pleasure. It’s no longer my obsession, but it’s also not an afterthought.
- What to do when you realize that the only sex you know and have enjoyed for 45 years won’t work anymore? My wife has lichen sclerosus of the vulva. We can’t have penetrative sex anymore because she is so sensitive. We had to completely relearn how to have sex, first conquering our belief that sex other than penetrative missionary sex was shameful or sinful. We have learned that we can continue to be intimate and enjoy sex together.
- Because I couldn’t orgasm with intercourse and sometimes I had to finish myself off alone, after 20 minutes of my husband doing everything in his power to make me come, I thought our sex life was deficient and substandard. Joan’s writing truly helped me. To read an expert telling me that masturbation was real sex; oral sex was real sex; sex with sex toys to enable us to orgasm was real sex? I realized I was having quite a bit of real sex, and I didn’t recognize it. Two people who love the hell out of each other and fit together like puzzle pieces thinking that they’re defective because their sex life didn’t fit the standard definition? Your words freed me from feeling inadequate, broken, and damaged.
Bring Back the Spice: If you’re in a long-term relationship that has lost its excitement, these readers share what works for them:
- We find planned, weekly date-night encounters far more enjoyable than spontaneous episodes, because planning a scene enhances anticipation. It’s a form of extended foreplay. We are consistently ready for sex well before the next date-night, but we deny ourselves, heightening the desire to extreme levels for days.
- I’m 80, and my mind is my biggest turn on. I am no longer afraid to share my fantasies with my partner. It is a delight not to be ashamed of these wonderful and imaginative ideas where I get to determine what I experience in my mind while making love with my partner.
- After 33 years of marriage, I realize that both partners need to choose to keep their relationship spicy and active. Both must be honest and frank about their desires. Don’t be freaked out if you two disagree on what you’d like to do. Just treat it like every other issue you’ve disagreed on through the years: listen, suggest, compromise, and give it time.
Explore New Kinds of Relationships: We were brought up to value only a lifelong, monogamous relationship. Sometimes that works for us; often it doesn’t. It’s never too late to explore a new relationship — or a new kind of relationship:
- After much reading and heart-to-heart conversations with my more experienced lover, I’ve embraced consensual nonmonogamy at age 74 as an honest and happy-making way of being in a primary relationship. It allows each of us to celebrate both our independence and our connection based upon a solid foundation of frank, open communication. I have the freedom (should I so choose) to pursue other relationships without jeopardizing my highly valued primary tie. And, she likewise, has that freedom. Never taking my partner for granted adds a special sexy frisson to our connection.
- I’m 72. After my dear heart passed away and I hadn’t had sex for 5 years, I reconnected with my boyfriend from 43 years ago. Our relationship the first time around had been sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Now we’re in sync with getting up in the middle of the night to pee! We’re in a long-distance relationship for now, with sex being a big part of our daily conversations.
- After 26 years of an unfulfilling sex life that lasted minutes at best, I was alone and lonely. At 71, I met someone new. We can barely keep our hands off each other, like in the scene from West Side Story where everyone disappears into the scenery. We’re both widowed and realize that tomorrow is promised to no one. Whether or not it lasts, I plan to suck every bit of life and juice from this new relationship. I am burning daylight here.
Sex Keeps Getting Better: Many readers wanted to share why sex at our age is better than ever:
- We have a whole new attitude towards sex, accepting that whatever provides immediate pleasure also benefits our long-term health and relationship. We are more respectful of each other and display a high level of intimacy outside the bedroom as well as in. We are more comfortable with openly discussing sex than we ever were.
- Sex is better now than in our younger days because the pace and respectful desire to please each other is more refined than the more urgent hormone-driven copulations in the past.
- As I age, I am more sexually comfortable, adventurous and voracious. As a young woman, I was painfully shy, inhibited, and sure I wasn’t attractive. Now I feel strong, capable, sexy, attractive and free to express myself sexually and sensually.
- I love an older woman’s body. It’s about how she feels about herself, how much she gives herself up to pleasure and takes joy in her body. In the past decade, I’ve had partners dealing with wrinkles, stretch marks, cellulite, diabetes, heart conditions, Bell’s Palsy, IBS, and none of it has been an impediment to loving pleasure and desire.
- I’m much more excited about exploring than I ever was in my younger days. Touch is an integral part of the experience for me and I teach my partner how and where to touch me, and I do the same for him. I have fewer inhibitions and I’m focused on enjoying all the sensations.
- Sex in my 70s is relaxed, playful, fun, unhurried, experimental, and made wonderful by open, easy, frank communication with my partner about what we each do and don’t like. We feel closeness and trust, and our orgasms are happily extended as we pleasure one another without stress or anxiety or rush. Now is the best age in my entire life for uncomplicated, completely happy, and totally delightful sex!
- My lover (64) and I (88) just celebrated our 5th anniversary with a weekend frankly devoted to “sex at our age” and loving it. It was a soul-blending celebration. Most important to us are (1) learning to listen before responding; (2) responding freely, not out of earlier patterns, but aware of the new definitions and opportunities for growth; (3) being willing to risk, try the new, re-invent. Of course, I’m vulnerable and have shed tears often. But, ah, the growth —beyond imagination.
Some take-away tips from these reader experiences:
- A sexual problem is a challenge, not a defeat. It’s an opportunity to learn and to explore.
- Expand your notion of what kind of sex is satisfying to you.
- Get creative. Try new things.
- Communicate with your partner about what you’d like to try.
- Treasure the pleasure!
Send Joan your questions by emailing email@example.com. All information is confidential. Joan can only answer questions that are chosen for publication.
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. View Joan’s new free webinar, “Safer Sex for Seniors.”