The sexual pleasures of aging

There are plenty of articles about sex and aging.  I have written a few myself (http://www.cwhn.ca/en/networkmagazine/olderwomenandsexuality).  For women, the advice seems to boil down to “use lube”; and for men, “consider Viagra”.  But erectile dysfunction is not inevitable; neither are dryness and vaginal atrophy.

According to this article on testosterone therapy for women (http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/855874_1?nlid=95444_1842), “Although sexual problems generally increase with aging, distressing sexual problems peak in midlife women (aged 45-64 y) and are lowest in women aged 65 years or older.”  Lest one might think distress is lower in this age category because we have given up on sex, some of us who are 65 and older are having regular and satisfying sexual activity with no need for aids of any kind.

Granted, older people may be ambivalent about aging and sexuality.  Slyly, or perhaps subconsciously, some of us seek compliments by making constant reference to our age.  Some struggle mightily to maintain health through diet and exercise; and sexiness through cosmetic surgery, fast cars, high heels and hip replacements.  Some (women) work really well with their aging beauty; for others, it’s a fight to the death.

Still others cultivate the sexlessness of old age.

Distaste about sex and aging are fuelled by stereotypes.  Robin Williams’ brilliant bit on Viagra (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFM11SmoxfI) is funny but also disparaging: the comic juxtaposition of sex and age.  The Cat in the Hat on Aging is not much better (https://medicalhumour.wordpress.com/2012/09/15/the-cat-in-the-hat-on-aging/).

In his book of poetry, The First Little Bastard to Call me Gramps, CBC broadcaster Bill Richardson bemoans aging in the same vein (http://www.westender.com/news-issues/vancouver-shakedown/bill-richardson-west-end-bard-1.2122654).  Mr. Richardson and his interviewer laughed heartily over “pizza dough” skin and the horror of imagining older people having sex. (http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thenextchapter/farzana-doctor-on-the-dark-side-of-vacationing-and-bill-richardson-on-the-funny-side-of-aging-1.3383121/bill-richardson-on-late-middle-age-1.3383129).  I was not amused.

Because we do.  Have sex.   

Granted, everyone’s definition of “having sex” is different.  LGBTQ people do not have the monopoly on opening up the language.  As long as we have skin and nerve endings, we can delight each other with languorous kisses, caresses, genital and anal play – and call it what we like.

There may be challenges to some of our sexual activities: physical challenges like disabilities; specific conditions like diabetes, stroke or high blood pressure and changing hormones; there may be pain, limited mobility, incontinence, difficulty with erections/lubrication.  There may be societal challenges, like body image, lack of privacy, societal disapproval or expectations.

But there are also some real advantages.

  • If pregnancy was once an issue, it is no longer.
  • If you don’t conform to the societal version of beauty, neither does your partner.
  • We’ve learned to take our time.
  • By now, we have a pretty good idea of what pleases us.
  • Over time, we have developed more skills to please others.
  • We are learning to be more creative.

The newly single can put old routines aside

Many older people have lost their long-term partner to divorce or death.  With a bit of courage and a lot of luck, they can seek and find a new partner.  A new partner can really get the juices flowing no matter one’s age.  It’s exciting to explore a new body and see the delight in someone’s eyes as they explore yours.  Moreover, with a new partner, we have a chance to finally get it right, communicating about safer sex, for example; but above all – communicating about pleasure.  While the need for accommodation may require discussion, we can also talk about what’s on or off the menu.  We can try new out sexual positions, fantasies, role plays – that we may never have had the courage to mention in a previous relationship.  We can see the beauty in each other and feel free to say it out loud.  (I don’t know what their sex life will be like, but when Downton Abbey’s butler, Carson says he finds Mrs. Hughes beautiful, we see it too.)  We can savour long sessions of lovemaking in the privacy of our older adult cocoon.

What about orgasm?

Orgasm is lovely.  Multiple orgasm is lovelier.  The goal of “getting there” is controversial http://dodsonandross.com/blogs/eric-amaranth/2014/09/about-trip-or-about-orgasm.  The language itself is goal-oriented; viz., “achieving orgasm”.  I would argue that enjoying the moment – the long, lovely moment of a sexual session – is the goal rather than any particular sensation.  Watching your partner’s pleasure, or keeping your eyes closed to concentrate on those sensations, paying attention to each other’s ongoing pleasure, are in themselves a satisfying turn-on.

Like any two people making love, having sex, or whatever they choose to call it, older people seek to give and to take pleasure.  Our generation remembers Alex Comfort’s original “Joy of Sex” and we are now quietly (or not so quietly) contributing to the latest edition.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Great sex – January 9, 2013

Do you ever watch a movie, riveted by those slow, languorous, delicious lovemaking scenes; or the rip-your-clothes-off-and-get-sweaty-in-the-heat-of-the-moment scenes that make you want to howl at the moon: “I want that!”

Sex columnist, Dan Savage, says as partners, we are to be “good, giving and game.” I don’t know about you, but I think some more specific guidelines for good sex would be really useful.

A wonderful piece of research asked the question about great sex to an eclectic group of participants. I had jotted down the list below of the common themes that emerged, tucked it away and then forgotten where I’d seen it.

  • being present
  • connection
  • deep sexual and erotic intimacy
  • communication
  • interpersonal risk-taking and exploration
  • authenticity
  • vulnerability
  • transcendence

So this is my personal take on these themes.  Feel free to compare them to the original research.

Being present: We hear more and more these days about the importance of being fully present in all of our activities. When you are with someone—here and now—and they are with you too, your presence creates the basis for physical and emotional intimacy. If you are truly there with each other, every move you make, every caress and kiss given and taken with deliberation resonates with both of you.

Connection: Presence forms the basis for connection because you are embarking on a journey together. Although our sensations are our own, being connected to another person sensually allows both to appreciate the other’s sensations.

Deep sexual and erotic intimacy: No matter how simple or complex your sexual activity, you may feel like you have never done this activity in this way with anyone else before. There is nothing but feeling and connection. Turning on a partner can be very erotic, as is stripping away layers to get to basic instincts.

Communication: Think about what turns you on. Ask yourself about the key elements of why it turns you on. Now try to express this to a partner. When your partner asks you to say or do certain things, if you find yourself wondering why and want to find out, try to ask them from the viewpoint of true curiosity rather than criticism.

Perhaps the best example of good communication happens when you are trying something different, like adding a potentially charged sexual activity to your erotic repertoire. A colleague of mine adds to this, saying that when there is a “high degree of communication due to embarrassment and pain there is also a nod to the high degree of intimacy from joint discovery, new pleasures and the communication of desires that may feel taboo.”

Interpersonal risk-taking and exploration: If your partner suggests something or starts to initiate a new position or activity, the basis of this exploration is trust. If you make it clear you are ready to go there, clear communication now plays a vital role. Do you like it? If not, perhaps there something you can do that will make it more enjoyable/comfortable. If you don’t like it and want to stop, it is important that you can count on your partner to continue to think well of you and desire you as before. The same holds true if there is something you suggest that they reject.

Authenticity: This is not a movie (even if you are recording it for future pleasure). You are being as real with this person as you know how to be. Even if you are role playing, it is with the part of you that you are willing to share with your partner. How unfortunate that people sometimes feel they need to pretend enthusiasm for something that gives them no pleasure, either personally or through their partner’s pleasure.

Vulnerability: Acknowledge that this incredibly intimate activity can end in physical or emotional distress—or joy. If you are a survivor of sexual or emotional trauma, your partner has to pay particular attention to your sensibilities. If you have a disability and must put your trust in your partner’s assistance and tender caring, you are opening yourself completely, trusting that you will come to no harm. Anyone engaged in sexual activity is wide open: with concerns about physical “imperfections” and the secrets of the most intimate parts of their bodies. Breaking down barriers and allowing your partner to see your vulnerabilities is a great gift.

Transcendence: Did the earth move? Perhaps not, but how wonderful if while being in your body and present with your partner, you are still able to go somewhere you have never been before, whether it be a spiritual experience or a letting go that is so powerful you feel lost—and found—at the same time.

I’ve been thinking about orgasm – February 15, 2013

For years, women have been told we are responsible for our own orgasms; no one can hand it to us on a silver platter. And most of us can manage to get there very nicely on our own, thank you.

There are some obvious blocks to orgasm, like prior trauma, repressive sexual upbringing, shyness, overthinking, inability to relax, control issues, problems in the relationship or other stresses. What is a partner’s role in a woman’s desire or ability to come?

Two-thirds of women who have sex with men don’t have orgasms during vaginal intercourse. These women often minimize their desire for it, saying they enjoy the good feelings and intimacy that they get during sex. But women’s partners—male or female—sometimes feel cheated, both by women’s lack of desire for orgasm or because they don’t know how to get us there. There’s nothing new here. Shere Hite reported the same dilemma in the 1970s (The Hite Report, 1976). Communication is, of course, key. But “I really want you to come” may be perceived as pressure. “How can I get you there?” assumes that’s where you want to go. On the other hand (so to speak), “I want to come. Let me show/tell you what to do” sounds like a plan.

Most workshops about reaching orgasm focus first on familiarizing yourself with your own sexual response and eventually finding the type of stimulation that leads to orgasm. Some women have orgasm that is qualitatively different depending on whether there is anal, G-spot, or clitoral stimulation. You may like direct or indirect stimulation of the clitoris with a finger, vibrator, something inside your vagina or anus, anal stimulation, with lubricant or without, direct, strong pressure on the vulva, like a thigh or a pillow, or not.  Women may ejaculate or not, or only some of the time. We don’t always want—or are not always able—to come the same way every time; nor do our orgasms always feel the same, even when we have a session with several orgasms.

Let’s say you can already have orgasm on your own. How comfortable are you having an orgasm in front of your partner? Is it exciting, embarrassing, eyes open, eyes closed, watching your partner watching you, getting off on their pleasure? Is there an alternate kind of stimulation that your partner can try? If you’re used to hard and fast stimulation with a finger or vibrator and your partner tries to bring you to orgasm with oral sex, do you feel the pressure to perform? Are you worried your partner will get tired or frustrated? And maybe more importantly: can you show your partner what works for you without detailing an exhaustive list? Sex is primarily for pleasure. If performance worries get in the way, where’s the fun?

A hilarious example of how sex can become too much work and turn off a partner appears in Carol Shield’s Republic of Love.

“He’d rather enter a life of celibate denial than go through the hard labor and humiliation of bringing Charlotte Downey to quality orgasm … Quality orgasms were the only kind worth having, she told him”  (pp. 144 – 145).

Some women feel the need to stay in control of all aspects of their lives, which may impede erotic intimacy. What a gift to put yourself in your partner’s hands and allow the barriers to fall away. Sometimes I wonder if dealing with barriers to orgasm is as simple—and as complicated—as dealing with insomnia.  Instead of anxiously wanting it (orgasm or sleep), we just let go and it “comes”.

It would be lovely if two people could go with the flow. If it feels good, do it. If you or your partner gets tired, stop and do something else. And all of this can happen with a smile, a laugh, the conspiratorial joy of discovery. This is intimacy; it happens between the two of you.

And what about your partner’s orgasm? Again, it depends on how important it is to him/her. Is it your role to be The One who finds their magic formula? Answer: the magic is what happens between you, not between their legs.

Read this excellent article: http://www.brainpickings.org/2013/09/23/naomi-wolf-vagina/