by Dawn Ferrara
Take a cruise around the internet these days looking for help with intimacy and relationships, you’re likely to see things like this:
“50 is the new 40”
“Age is just a number”
“You’re only as old as you feel”
“You should be having more sex! Better sex!”
You get the idea. But what all this “advice” does is make it sound like everyone in the world is having more sex than you. Somehow, you’re getting it wrong. You’re not.
The fact is, we are not the same as we were in our 20’s, 30’s or even 40’s. And that includes our sexual behavior. Our level of interest and participation in intimate activity waxes and wanes over time.
Turns out, there are lots of reasons for the waning of sexual activity,¹:
- The physical effects of age (e.g., hormonal changes, aches & pains, discomfort)
- Widowhood/loss of a partner
- Lack of an available partner
- Satisfaction with your partner
As we get older, changes can impact not just our desire but our ability to engage in sexual activity. Our bodies change. Our feelings change. The way we perceive the world and our place in it can change. All of these things can affect our sex lives.
You’ll notice that statement doesn’t say “better or worse” sex or “more or less” sex. Just a difference. Where you are in your life and how you experience and manage those differences translates into how satisfied you are with your sex life.
The Myth of Aging and Sexuality
It’s a common misconception that as we age, we somehow become less sexual. Somehow we get the idea that:
- We aren’t as attractive as we once were
- We aren’t supposed to have sex anymore (or want to)
- We can’t have sex anymore
The fact is, mature adults can, do and want to have sex. In fact, an AARP study found that over 60% of people ages 45-59 have sex on average of once a week. For those 75 and older, about 25% reported regular sexual activity. Nearly 75% of all respondents (with a partner) reported having sex at least once a month regardless of age.² And they find their partners attractive. Talk about myth-busting!
The fact is, barring any physical barrier to sexual activity, you CAN have a robust and fulfilling sex life at any age. In fact, an AARP survey found that 66.8% of men and 56.7% of women who responded felt that a satisfying sex life was important to their quality of life.2 And what did these respondents identity as key to their happiness and satisfaction? A good relationship. Research has found that marital satisfaction, emotional intimacy and sexual satisfaction are strongly correlated.²,³
So what does all this mean for the mature couple who finds themselves struggling with their sexual intimacy or are looking to rekindle the flames of passion?
Meet Alli and Max, a couple in their mid-fifties who have been married for 30 years. They’ve had successful careers and raised two great kids. They have a stable and active lifestyle, do things together and get along well. And they rarely have sex. When they do, it’s predictable and unsatisfying. Recently, Alli has been missing her time with Max and wondering why he doesn’t find her desirable anymore. Max thinks Alli doesn’t find him attractive anymore. They don’t talk about it,⁴.
Max and Alli’s situation is not uncommon. A lot of mature couples find themselves struggling with the transition into midlife and often sexual intimacy suffers. Can their sex life be saved? YES!
Embrace The Change!
Lots of couples report that sex in their 50’s and later is some of the best sex of their lives. One survey found that couples in their 60’s who had sex regularly rated their sex lives as more satisfying than when they were in their forties, ⁴,⁵.
Really! So what’s going on here?
Confidence – You’re not 20 anymore. You’ve lived a lifetime and know who you are.
Body Changes – This one is for the ladies. With menopause comes the relief from worry
about unwanted pregnancy. Menopausal changes have also been associated with better
More Time – Many couples now find themselves with more time to slow down and spend
time together. Proximity fosters intimacy.
You Know Each Other – For mature couples, sexual satisfaction is significantly related to
Recognizing and accepting the place you are in now is the first step to rekindling those flames. Instead of looking for all the reasons why not, look at all the reasons why a vibrant sex life is possible!
But just thinking about it isn’t enough. Change requires action. It’s time to fan the flames.
Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire
OK, this is the scary part. You want a more active sex life. Now you have to do something. If you wait for your partner to initiate, you might wait forever because your partner may be just as apprehensive as you are.
The other thing to remember is that our brain is our biggest sex organ. Without getting too technical, thoughts influence feelings. Feelings influence behavior. When we engage in behaviors that support sexual intimacy, we are not only sending messages to our partner, we are sending messages to ourselves.
And here’s a pro tip: Assertiveness is sexy.
The fact is, it doesn’t matter if you’ve been together 25 years or 50 years. Your relationship can still be passionate, fiery and fun!
Set The Stage
Anticipation of what is to come later is sexy and powerful. Set the tone for your partner. Send them off to work with a sexy note in their pocket. Send a suggestive text. They’ll have all day to think about what’s waiting for them later.
Kiss Passionately And Kiss Often
Not just a peck like your grandmother might give you. Kiss your partner like you mean it! Relationship expert Dr. John Gottman recommends that couples use the daily “6 second kiss” to increase emotional and physical intimacy⁵.
Proximity, being physically close, increases feelings of emotional closeness and promotes physical touch which can be very erotic. Sit next to each other, hold hands, snuggle up on the sofa, whisper sweet nothings. Physical contact also causes the release of oxytocin which increases feelings of calm and is often called the “love hormone”.
Date Your Spouse
When was the last time you and your partner went on a real and true date? When you were dating, you were both probably sweet, attentive and probably just a bit seductive. Date your spouse like you’re courting. Better yet, whisk your honey away for a romantic weekend!
Send Smoke Signals
Sometimes we need to be reminded to see beyond the day-to-day routine. It’s easy to miss the obvious or not realize how long it has been. Now is the time to drop a hint – that “look” or those sweet, provocative words you know both know means, “I want to spend some sexy time with you.”
Make Time For Sexy Time
It’s easy to let life get in the way. Make time for each other. Create a lifestyle that makes time for intimate time. And make it a priority. Sometimes you have to say NO to other things so you can say YES to your partner.
Decide What Is Right Now
Sex and physical intimacy are much more than just intercourse. Have the conversation with your partner about what you want and need. Listen to what your partner wants and needs. What we want and need can change over time. Explore with your partner. You may discover the best thing ever!
And last but hardly least, Just Have Fun
Time brings aging bodies and changes. It also brings a greater sense of confidence. Embrace where you are. It’s ok if there are a few more gray hairs or stretch marks. It’s ok if you can’t bend that way anymore. Have fun finding new ways to enjoy your sexy time. You will be surprised at what your body CAN still do!
So what became of Alli and Max? They saw a marriage counselor to learn how to talk to each other about what they were feeling and even about sex. They found they were spending a lot of time doing mundane things but speeding very little time doing couples kinds of things. They decided to commit to making time for each other. They established a regular date night and even managed a few romantic getaways. At last check, they were back on track and all smiles.
Midlife does not have to mean an end to your sex life. In fact, evidence clearly suggests that sex can in some ways be better than it was in your earlier years. Like anything, you have to nurture that part of your life and relationship. You’ll be more satisfied and your partner will thank you too.
1. Karraker, A., DeLamater, J., & Schwartz, C. R. (2011). Sexual Frequency Decline From Midlife to Later Life. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 66B(4), 502-512.
2. Harvard Health Publishing. (2017, April 7). Attitudes about sexuality and aging – Harvard Health. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/attitudes-about-sexuality-and-aging
3. Hana Yoo, Suzanne Bartle-Haring, Randal D. Day & Rashmi Gangamma (2014) Couple Communication, Emotional and Sexual Intimacy, and Relationship Satisfaction. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 40:4, 275-293.
4. Thistlethwaite, F. (2015, August 10). Seven reasons why sex in your fifties is the best. Retrieved from https://www.express.co.uk/life-style/health/597324/sex-over-fifty-50- erections-at-50-senior-dating
5. Gottman, J. (2017, June 2). 5 Rituals to Reconnect in Your Relationship. Retrieved from https://www.gottman.com/blog/5-rituals-reconnect-relationship/
Dr. Dawn Ferrara has over twenty years of clinical experience in the mental health field. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist as well as a Certified Health Coach. Dr. Ferrara is passionate about helping her clients find solutions that work and believes that every person has the power and ability to be successful. When not working, she can usually be found in the gym or spending time with her husband and their silly Black Lab, Riley, enjoying the sights and sounds of South Louisiana.