13 Jan 2019
According to Iris Krasnow, a women’s studies professor at American University in Washington, D.C. and author of several books including Sex After…, “Sex remains important at every age and stage, and intimacy matters until the day we die.” That’s a thought many of us would agree with, even if our kids and grandkids cannot imagine or don’t want to think that sex is still a part of our lives. And while it’s true that sexual activity does taper off with age – a function of biological factors and partner status, research shows that Americans do stay sexually active well into their 70s and older.
So how can we continue to enjoy the pleasures of sex as we age?
“We need to expand our notion about what pleasurable sex is, and not define it as just intercourse,” says Joan Price, author of The Ultimate Guide to Sex After 50: How to Maintain – or Regain! – a Spicy, Satisfying Sex Life. Price believes we need to think of ‘real sex’ as all the ways to give each other sensation and pleasure.
Author and sex educator Walker J. Thornton concurs, suggesting that we redefine pleasure and give up the idea that an orgasm is the main reason we have sex. Krasnow adds that hugging and holding are the framework to intimacy and can continue regardless of physical limitations.
What can couples use to enhance their sex lives?
Since it becomes more difficult to get aroused as we age, our experts encourage the use of sex toys, as well as lubricants for dryness. Price whole-heartedly supports the use of a “well-chosen, well-placed” vibrator to aid arousal.
Romantic Depot in Elmsford is accustomed to welcoming older couples into the store, though buying online is also an option. Bella Appleton Davis, the store’s general manager, says, “Sex toys are enhancements, like women putting on makeup; a stimulating lubricant can help [with arousal] or a massage oil or sexy underwear.” She also notes that Kegel balls used with a water-based lubricant can help women strengthen their pelvic floor muscles and enhance sexual sensation. Another recommended product is their hand-held supercharged wand that can be used on the body and as a vibrator to help couples relax and stimulate each other.
“There is no generic answer as to how couples feel about using sex toys,” says Krasnow. “People need to be open with each other about exploring their sexuality.”
“Romantic Depot is a safe environment to come into, especially as a couple,” assures Davis. They can ask questions, “Plus, seniors get a 20 percent discount!”
Do we need protection?
“I suggest using condoms or be tested,” advises Thornton. “STDs [sexually transmitted diseases] have been on the rise [with older adults] during the past 10 years. Have the conversation with a partner prior to having sex,” she says. “If a man doesn’t respect a woman’s request for him to wear a condom, then he’s not respecting her well-being and concern.”
Can we be friends “with benefits”?
Price acknowledges, “It’s not a committed relationship or all-encompassing, but it can be satisfying. ‘We are friends and we have sex’ is the premise. We have to unlearn what we were taught about what a relationship is or is not and go after what works for us at this time in our lives.”
“True intimate connections between couples come from a far deeper place than body parts,” Krasnow maintains. “Look to your own self and soul and your own partner’s needs and what works for you.”
What might affect desire?
Desire can ebb and flow, and we need to accept that. A woman may feel less desire due to stressors in her life, whereas men tend to go through phases, which can be work- or emotionally-related, notes Thornton. “It only becomes an issue if couples stop having sex for a while and it has to do with communication.”
Krasnow encourages people to be open to discussing how they wish to explore their sexuality as a couple. “Discussing and listening to the other person is key in all aspects of building a successful intimate relationship, in and out of the bedroom.”