June has been declared Adult Sex Ed Month (#AdultSexEdMonth) by Ms. Quote
(@GoodDirtyWoman on Twitter) who blogs at A Good Woman’s Dirty Mind. This idea caught on, and this month, hundreds of posts designated #AdultSexEdMonth from sex educators and bloggers appeared all over the Internet. View the list with links here.
In my world — advocating for senior sex and educating about older-age sexuality — every month is Adult Sex Ed Month. This month has been particularly fruitful.
This month, I participated in a Huffington Post Live event titled “How Old Is Too Old To Have Sex?” with fellow panelists Ashton Applewhite, Walker Thornton, Sidney Schwab, and Ken Solin, hosted by Abby Huntsman. Of course the answer to the question in the title is obvious to us (though not obvious to Abby, until we raised her consciousness), but you’ll find the discussion interesting even though you know the answer! Watch it here:
The annual conference of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors
and Therapists conference always makes my brain swell with new information and ideas from sex educators who are trailblazers in the field. Counselors, therapists, sex educators in community or medical settings, and other people who care about your sexual knowledge and enrichment gather to learn from the leaders. Then people like me come home and spread it around – to people like you.
As always, it was impossible to attend all the sessions of interest, and there’s no way I can share all of the 25 pages of single-spaced notes that I took on my laptop, no matter how many blog posts I write. But here are some highlights and tips that are especially relevant to our age group:
- Some sexual issues are psychological; some are medical or physiological. But even when it’s a medical issue, a sex therapist can be important to help you work with whatever is going on. Medical sexual issues affect your sense of self and your relationship. “Any pharmacotherapy for sexual dysfunction should occur within the context of sex and relationship therapy.” (Ricky Siegel)
- One more good reason to quit smoking: Nicotine has been shown to decrease blood flow to the penis and increase venous outflow from the penis — in other words, less ability to get and maintain an erection. (Ricky and Larry Siegel)
- Women with vulvar or vaginal pain have a difficult time getting the pain diagnosed and treated effectively. Possible causes of pelvic pain are varied, and with the wrong diagnosis (or no diagnosis!), the wrong treatment follows. Look for a three-pronged approach: a sexual medicine physician, a pelvic floor physical therapist, and a certified sex therapist, such as used by the Summa Center for Sexual Health in Akron, Ohio. (Kimberly Resnick Anderson)
- Pelvic floor physical therapists are trained to do internal evaluation of the pelvic floor muscles — evaluating muscle function, strength, tone, and any points of tenderness. Regular physical therapists are not trained to do this. (Amy Senn)
- Men with low libido: Anxiety, mood, relationship, and religious factors affects libido. “First know what’s going on in the relationship before throwing medication at it.” (Larry Siegel)
- “Nerve sparing” prostate surgery is “a bit of a misnomer.” Erectile nerves on the outside of the prostate are very difficult to see and avoid during surgery. “The prostate is deep in the pelvis, and they go pushing around with stainless steel instruments. If cauterizing instruments are anywhere near nerves, it damages them for life. Nerves recover from the pushing and pulling – it takes a long, long time. Nerves go into shock and stop sending message to blood vessels to relax and let blood in.” (Anne Katz)
- “Sexual arousal requires healthy blood flow for everything else to work. Otherwise, nothing happens. Take a 15 minute walk with your partner before sex. It will prime the pump.” (Ellen Barnard)
- After treatment for female genital cancer, using a vibrating wand internally will reduce scar tissue. “Vibration directly to the scar tissue starts breaking up that scar tissue, allowing it to expand, become more comfortable, and allow penetrative sex if we want it.” (Ellen Barnard)
- After cancer treatment, start getting to know “what is”: “What feels good? What doesn’t feel good? What’s numb? What’s painful? How does arousal happen? What does it take? How does orgasm happen and feel? When during the day do I have energy?” (Ellen Barnard) You need to learn this for yourself before you can teach your partner. (JP: This applies to aging in general, also.) A Woman’s Touch has excellent educational brochures for both men and women online at no cost, for example, Healthy Sexuality After Cancer. Visit www.sexualityresources.com, see the Educational Brochures link in the upper left hand corner of the menu bar for a complete selection.
The huge news this month for me as a senior sex educator was an invitation from Cleis Press to write a book for them: The Ultimate Guide to Sex after Fifty! I’m thrilled to have a new book to write on my favorite topic, and I’m proud to be part of the fabulous Ultimate Guide collection of sexuality guidebooks. You can be sure you’ll hear more about my new endeavor as it unfolds.
Meanwhile, if there’s a topic you want to be sure that I cover in this new book, please either post it as a comment here or email me. I love to hear from you. I’m too busy to promise to answer all your questions in detail, but I try to acknowledge your email and point you in the right direction. I admit sheepishly that I have about 400 unanswered emails waiting. If one of these is yours, I thank you for your patience! (I do give private, educational consultations answering your questions by phone or Skype for a modest fee — email me for more info about this.)
|Diagram from Wikipedia|
January is “shape-up” month, with every lifestyle magazine and website proclaiming a new exercise program.
I’ve got a shape-up program for you, too, and though it’s a muscle workout, you won’t see the results in the mirror or show them off to your friends — except for intimate friends — and then the results will be felt, not seen.
This workout strengthens the muscles of your pelvic floor — the “PC” (pubococcygeus) muscles that run along the pelvic floor and surround the entire vagina. These are the muscles that contract during orgasm.
Regular pelvic floor workouts, AKA Kegel exercises, lead to more enjoyable sex: easier arousal, stronger orgasms, more pleasure. If that’s not enough, strengthening the pelvic floor muscles also protects against urinary incontinence. (Ah, now I have your attention!)
You’ve been told, “Do your Kegels,” but you haven’t been told how to do them most effectively. Here are step-by-step instructions for your pelvic floor workout, thanks to Myrtle Wilhite, MD, MS and staff of A Woman’s Touch Sexuality Resource Center in Madison, Wisconsin:
1. Lie down on your back in a comfortable place with your knees bent. Lying down takes the weight off your pelvic floor and leads to earlier success. Have your tool (if you are using one) and lubricant with you.
- If you’re using a tool, coat it with lubricant and insert it into your vagina until it comfortably slips into place just behind the pubic bone. You can’t push it in too far; it cannot get lost inside of you.
- If you’re using your finger(s), wash your hands first, then coat your finger(s) with lubricant. Next, insert your finger(s) about 2 inches into your vagina.
- You can also practice Kegels with nothing at all inside your vagina, or a hand placed on your perineum, to feel the muscle contract from the outside.
2. Contract your pelvic floor muscles. It will feel like you’re pulling up and in toward your belly button. Don’t push out, unless specifically advised by a health care provider. If you’re using a tool, you should feel it rise a bit. If you’re using your finger, you should feel a gentle tightening around the finger. Try to keep your leg, buttock, and abdominal muscles relaxed, and remember to breathe normally throughout the exercise.
3. Hold the lift for a count of 5. If you’re using a tool, you can add resistance by pulling gently on it as you continue using your muscles to pull the tool inward and upward. Remember to breathe!
4. Relax your muscles.
5. IMPORTANT: After each contraction, take a deep belly breath. Inhale deeply and gently blow out the air while you relax your pelvis completely. This deep relaxation is just as important as the other steps, because the deep belly breath relaxes the muscles that are not under your conscious control.
For much more about Kegels from A Woman’s Touch, click here.
The deep relaxation phase is often omitted when we’re told how to do our Kegels, but they’re as important to practice as the contraction. Many women of our age, especially after a period of celibacy, experience what feels like tightening or shrinking of the vaginal opening because the muscles don’t fully release. This can interfere with our enjoyment of penetrative sex.
“Pay equal attention to the contraction and the relaxation of the muscles that surround the vagina in particular,” says sex educator and counselor Ellen Barnard, MSSW, co-owner of A Woman’s Touch. “Otherwise you may find that these muscles are stiff and inflexible, which will also get in the way of comfortable penetration when you are ready to have it.”
You can practice with your own fingers, a partner’s fingers or penis (fun for both of you!), or a sex product designed for vaginal penetration (that’s the “tool” mentioned above) such as a dildo, dilator, or a special Kegel exerciser.
You can also practice your Kegels without tools or fingers, even on the go: standing in the grocery line, driving, walking, working at your desk, during your Pilates, yoga, or dance class. If you’re doing them in public, be sure you’ve mastered the part about not contracting your buttocks, or anyone standing behind you will see what you’re doing!
Although I’ve directed this article to women, Kegels are also important for men. These muscles located in the perineum, the area between the scrotum and the anus, contract during a man’s orgasm. Kegels can make sex more pleasurable for men with age-related, less intense orgasms.
“By strengthening the muscles of the perineum, you will pump more blood to this vital area, achieve greater ejaculatory control, and increase the intensity of your orgasms,” says urologist Dudley S. Danoff, MD, FACS, author of Penis Power: The Ultimate Guide to Male Sexual Health. (Read my interview with Dr. Danoff here.)
Kegels are recommended for all ages, and they’re especially important for Boomers now and through our later years.
Kegels can be fun as well as useful. Though there’s nothing sexual about the pelvic floor exercises per se, there’s nothing to stop you from pleasuring yourself or your partner while you do them, or right afterwards!
(This post first appeared 12/28/12 on the Post50 channel of The Huffington Post here.)
Please read the companion piece to this one: Kegel Exercise “Tools” for Better Sex to learn about cool tools that will make your Kegels lots of fun.
Older women stop having and enjoying sex sooner in their lives than men do, a study in the British Medical Journal found. That’s because the medical community has no idea how to help women maintain their sexual health and pleasure after menopause without the use of potentially dangerous hormones. Women don’t have any “little blue pill” to make things work better when their bodies have given up.
But the truth is, there are simple answers:
1. Live a “Good Sex Lifestyle” which includes daily exercise, a healthy diet full of fruits, veggies, nuts, whole grains and healthy fats and free of white sugars and flours, low-to-moderate alcohol intake, and daily doses of chocolate, Omega-3 oils and lots of Vitamin D. Healthy women enjoy good sex much longer than those in poor health.
2. At menopause and later, care for your vagina. Moisturize her daily or more with a good moisturizing lubricant (no glycerin), and massage her inner walls two to four times per week for five to ten minutes, with either a well-made vibrator or a partner’s fingers or penis. For more details, see our Vaginal Renewal™ program.
3. Have at least one orgasm per week, with yourself or a partner, it doesn’t matter. Keep those nerves functioning properly and remind them what pleasure feels like. If it’s hard to have orgasms, use a vibrator. Men use tools all the time, why shouldn’t you?
4. Get enough sleep, keep your stress under control, and keep a positive outlook. Your body will thank you for it, and your mind will be able to think sexy thoughts without distraction.
5. Think sexy thoughts, often. Fantasize, reminisce, create erotic stories in your head (or on paper), talk about sex, plan for sex, and make it a priority. Nurture your sex life, and it will love you back for many years to come.
– Ellen Barnard, MSSW is a sex educator and co-owner of A Woman’s Touch Sexuality Resource Center, which offers education and products to support healthy sexuality for everyone, with a focus on older adults and those living with cancer. She can be found at http://www.sexualityresources.com/.
I think Ellen’s information is vital, and I hope you’ll pass this link to your friends, colleagues, lovers, wives, and mothers. If more mid-life and older-age women knew these self-help strategies for enhancing their sexuality, there would be more satisfied smiles on their faces! — Joan Price
As I write Naked at Our Age, I’m awed by the level of candor from the real people who have agreed to share their stories and the generosity of the experts who are contributing solid, helpful tips that address the problems and concerns you’ve sent me.
The book will come out in Spring 2011, which I realize is a long wait for those of you who are experiencing challenges now that are preventing you from thoroughly enjoying your senior sexuality. Since my mission is to help you, I want to share something that I learned from Ellen Barnard, MSSW, because you might need this information –as I did — before the book comes out.
I wrote Ellen for personal advice — I was startled and dismayed to discover that I was unable to insert the Teneo Smartballs comfortably — something that would have been easy before my self-imposed, long period of celibacy following Robert’s death. “I’m aghast that I’ve let this happen to me,” I told her.
Here is an excerpt from her compassionate and helpful reply, which I hope will open your eyes, as it did mine:
Oh, please don’t be upset – there are many women of all ages who find them to be too wide to insert comfortably unless they are very aroused. Despite the information around them, they really are not intended to be used without arousal and a lot of lubrication first.
It’s not really about stretching the entrance to your vagina. The issue is how tight and how flexible the pelvic floor muscles are at the opening of your vagina. After menopause, it gets more difficult for the pelvic floor to relax unless you regularly practice doing so. Arousal helps with relaxation of the pelvic floor, thus allowing you to insert something inside your vagina comfortably, but after menopause it often takes a conscious relaxation effort in addition to significant massage for arousal.
So your task is to learn how to better relax those muscles and do so as you insert gradually wider toys. Don’t “push” against those muscles – that doesn’t work, and actually causes them to tighten further. Instead, either gently slip a finger alongside your favorite toy once you are fully aroused, taking a deep belly breath and once you feel the opening relax, slip the finger inside, or take a tapered toy and insert it deeper as you breath deeply and feel the vaginal opening relax.
It’s worth going to our site and downloading our revised Vaginal Renewal and Pelvic Floor Health booklets (see links under “Educational Brochures”) – we address the issue of a tight pelvic floor in both of them.
Ellen Barnard is a sex educator and counselor who believes we all deserve delightful, healthy sex lives for as long as we live. She consults on the topics of aging and sexuality, cancer and sexuality, and facilitating intimacy at the end of life. She is also the co-owner of A Woman’s Touch Sexuality Resource Center.
Visit A Woman’s Touch for “expertise in sexual health and pleasure.”