Senior Sex: Focusing in intimacy vs. intercourse
The truth about seniors and sex
The world likes to pretend that older couples don’t have sex, don’t want sex, and don’t even think about sex.
But, the reality about seniors and sex couldn’t be more different. For couples in their 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and beyond, the desire for sex doesn’t disappear. Men and women want, and need, to experience a physical expression of intimacy, closeness and love no matter what their age. A need for intimacy is core to what makes us human, it's literally hardwired into our DNA.
But while the desire for some form of physical connection is there, older couples have to accept and adjust to the reality that their bodies have changed with age. Just as we move from running to walking or from singles tennis to doubles as we age, the way we experience sex has to reflect how our bodies work, or don’t work, today.
Talking about sex is the gateway to having sex
I saw an article the other day on “The best positions for senior sex”. I think that’s just a ridiculous idea. As if having good sex just about your position (they’d never write an article about the best positions for couples in their 30’s). And, it assumes that somehow all seniors, senior bodies, and senior attitudes are the same. There’s no such thing as the “best” position for seniors. There’s only what works for you as a couple. And the most important part of finding what works for a couple is the willingness to talk about sex and what’s working and isn’t.
But talking about sex is much easier said than done. We’ve all grown up with so many taboos around our bodies and sex that it can be very hard to communicate. It’s sad, but many older couples have stopped having sex, even though both partners want sex. The barrier to sex isn’t physical, it’s that one or both partners are too embarrassed to admit to their partner that things have changed, and they can’t perform the way they used to. Instead of talking about it, they’ll just say “I don’t want to” or “I can’t”. Because a deeper and more intimate conversation is too scary.
When you’re younger sex is all about intercourse, everything else is just foreplay. But, as we age, intercourse may no longer be an option. Many post-menopausal women experience painful intercourse that can’t be solved, no matter how much lube they use. And many older men have trouble maintaining an erection (even with medication). It’s the same thing for orgasms. When you’re younger, good sex means everybody has an orgasm. That may not be the case for older men and women. Many older men and women have trouble reaching orgasm.
A shift from sexual intercourse to sexual intimacy
So, what does “sex” mean if intercourse can’t happen and orgasms aren’t a sure thing? This is the core question that every older couple must do their best to address openly, honestly, and lovingly. A discussion in which each person must find compassion for themselves, and their body, as well as for their partner.
Some couples may move from defining sex as sexual intercourse to sexual intimacy. Sexual intimacy is physical intimacy that may, or may not, include intercourse or orgasms. Holding, stroking, touching, kissing, loving, these are at the core of sexual closeness and sexual intimacy. These are the elements that the relationship can’t live without. This closeness actually generates a hormonal response called Oxytocin that changes brain chemistry and makes us feel happier and more content.
Physical intimacy is vital to our individual health and the health of a relationship. It is a meaningful, intimate and deeply satisfying experience whether either partner has an orgasm or not. We all love orgasms, but as human beings, we crave closeness.
The courage to adapt and accept
But adapting our sex life to be in synch with our older bodies requires courage. The courage to change and the courage to be open, honest and vulnerable with our partner. We have to open our minds and get away from the idea that if its not traditional intercourse than its not really sex. That path just leads to dissatisfaction and loneliness.
This evolution of sexuality is not really a glass half full or half empty issue, its accepting that it’s a different kind of glass. And this new glass is full and wonderful. It’s true that we may feel sadness or grief over the loss of what our sex lives used to be like. But we can’t let that loss get in the way of being open to a new type of sexuality that is different, but equally important and satisfying.
Who was left out of this article?
I want to point out that this article has been written from the point of view of seniors who are in intimate relationships. Ufortunately, many seniors find themselves without partners. I’ll be discussing sex and sexual intimacy for seniors without partners in a new article next week. Stay tuned.
I also didn’t address the special challenges facing LGBTQ seniors in finding sexual connection. I hope to have a new article out on this important topic in the next few weeks.