In a recent newsletter, I asked my subscribers these seven questions:
1. If you’re in a long-term relationship, what tips or wisdom can you share that help you keep a relationship sexy and spicy after decades together?
2. If you’re in a relationship that’s less than satisfying, what do you wish you could tell or ask your partner to bring the sexiness back?
3. If you’re single or non-monogamous and dating, what is your safer sex policy? How do you discuss this with a new partner?
4. In what ways have you changed your ideas about the kind of relationship you’d like to have now? For example, would you be happy in a non-monogamous relationship? Friends with benefits? Marriage only? Living together without marriage? Sexually exclusive but not living together? Intimacy without sex?
5. What’s the worst thing a date or mate ever said to you? I ask this after a friend told me that a recent sex date said to him, “You’re the kind of person I want to go to bed with — but not the kind of person I want to wake up with.”
6. What would you like to learn about sex and aging this year?
7. What else should I have asked?
I got such a huge response to Question #1 that I’m devoting the rest of this post to excerpts from your answers. A later post will address the other 6 questions. (You’re welcome to add your answers to questions 2-7 in the comments or by emailing me here.)
* My wife and I married in 1968. I believe that sexual satisfaction comes from sexual growth through constant trial and error experimentation. This leads to a constantly evolving sex life. We must be willing to try new things as long as no one is being hurt. Some will be good experiences and some bad. Keep the good and discard the bad. If we’re afraid of making a mistake and have a high aversion to risk, we automatically limit our chances of succeeding or improving.
* At 55, we’ve been married almost 33 years. Both partners need to actively choose to keep their relationship spicy and active. Both have to be honest and frank about their desires. Don’t be freaked out if you disagree on what you’d like to do. Just treat it like every other issue you’ve disagreed on through the years: listen, suggest, compromise, and give it time.
* I am 70 and my wife is 66, married for over 50 years. Somewhere we lost the spark. I had been taking meds that affected my erection or lack of. Intercourse was impossible. Then I got a penis pump that Medicare paid for. The thing looked unromantic and embarrassing to use, but with the help of “Sucker Sam,” I got an erection that I could maintain and have intercourse. Now my wife really wants sex with me! She wears sexy outfits, we turn on mood lighting and music, smoke some medical herb, and break out the massage cream. We are having the best sex of our lives. I think the real key to all this is the extreme intimacy we both experience. As we put it, “Our souls touch.”
* Schedule sexual intimacy, and persistently but gently keep to the schedule, because at our age our hormones are no longer adequate to propel us spontaneously towards sexual activity.
* We’re 74, and for the last 15-20 years we have not felt the need to spice things up to maintain our sexual interest. Sex for us is about celebrating our being together, being alive with each other, and our deep caring and love for each other. We have a ritual that involves perhaps 20 minutes of foreplay leading to a few minutes up to 10 or so of intercourse, with strong orgasms for both of us. At the end it’s less about physical pleasure and more the elation of saying we are still here, we can still express our love physically, and isn’t that incredible?
* We are in our early 70s, married for over 50 years. Despite our many physical limitations, we have found ways to have an active and fulfilling sex life by using advice we have read in our sex library: sex toys, positioning pillows, timing taking of meds, and planning early morning encounters before meals interfere and energy sags. Two years ago we decided to focus on improving our sex lives from mediocre to more active, frequent and satisfying. We found a saying, “A better sex life does take some work. Couples who put effort into their sex lives have stronger relationships.” We assembled a library of sex related books (we have all of yours!) and spent much time studying and discussing them. There is so much information available today that was not just a few years ago.
* We began using sex toys (I like that you call them “tools” which is really what they are) and Liberator positioning pillows. We decorated our bedroom to provide a better romantic atmosphere.
We found that the more you have sex, the more you want it and your body will adjust to enable it. We learned from our reading that when physical problems develop (sexual or otherwise), there are methods to help overcome and improve the deficiencies and this gives us confidence, which helps to keep the sexual union relaxed and enjoyable. Also exercise and diet and general good health habits are important. We are having the best time and only regret that we did not make sex more of a priority before.
* At 60, I have found that the best thing is to continue to put the other partner first. In every matter, not just the sensual. I know that if I put my woman’s needs, wants, and desires before my own, that I will be well rewarded by a partner who feels the same way.
* I am a T2 diabetic, and neuropathy is robbing me of my sensitivity “down there.” We talked about the Pulse you reviewed — this opened the lines of communication. Push the limits of your sex life outside the box. Keep pushing your comfort zone. Don’t let ‘age’ stop you from experimenting and exploring. You’ll be surprised at what you can do, and feel, even at our age.
* Ask your partner if they would like to try new things, like toys or role playing. For instance, I asked my wife if she would like to spank me. This thought had never occurred to her. She considered spanking as a punishment, not as playful foreplay. We discussed how hard to strike (sensual spanking should sting a little, not leave welts), what areas of the body to spank (only the buttocks and upper thighs), and how long before the safe word came out (I always quit right after the orgasm). After a couple of trial and error sessions, she found that she enjoys playfully spanking me, as I enjoy spanking her. There is no punishment meant on either side; this is meant for playful pleasure.
* As my husband and I worked to overcome a crisis in our marriage, one thing that truly helped me ease off all the pressure I was putting on him was your writings, Joan, on Facebook and your newsletter. To read an expert telling me that masturbation was REAL sex; oral sex was REAL sex; sex with sex toys to enable us to orgasm was REAL sex? Holy shit. I realized I was having quite a bit of REAL sex, and I didn’t recognize it. I thought that because I couldn’t orgasm with intercourse anymore (it was never easy), or because sometimes I had to finish myself off alone, after 20 minutes of my husband doing everything in his power to make me come, that our sex life was deficient and substandard. How sad is that?! Two people who love the hell out of each other, are utterly compatible and fit together like puzzle pieces, thinking that they’re defective because their sex life didn’t fit the old notion of what “sex” was. I thought we were all wrong. You said we were right. In doing so, you freed me from feeling inadequate, broken, defective and damaged. My mental state, my physical state, and above all, my husband and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Do you want to join in the discussion? I welcome your comments!
Have you made your New Year’s Resolutions for 2018? I’m not talking about those tired (and usually abandoned) promises like go to the gym, stick to a budget, and stop junk food snacking. I’m talking about Sexy New Year’s Resolutions — changes and commitments that will give you a richer, more joyful sex life, especially at our age. And they’re fun to put into action!
You may know that I write a monthly “Sex at Our Age” column for Senior Planet. Usually I answer a reader’s question in this column, but occasionally I take a different path. This month, my Sexy New Year’s Resolutions offer you 14 tips and lifestyle changes that will make a huge difference if you follow them fully. Here are some examples. (Read the others here.)
Redefine Sex. Change your definition of sex to whatever activities arouse you and bring you sexual pleasure, partnered or solo. Embracing a new definition of sex expands your possibilities for pleasure. Read this account of one reader’s experience.
Track the Tingle. For quicker, easier, and more satisfying arousal, figure out what time of day you feel most sexually responsive. When you feel the “tingle” – that quiver of erotic possibility – set aside time to indulge yourself sexually or schedule that time on your next free day.
Self-Pleasure Frequently. Solo sex is real sex, and it’s good for your general health, your sexual health and your sense of well-being. Give yourself sexual pleasure, whether you’re in a relationship or not. You’re celebrating your body’s ability to give you exquisite pleasure.
Just Do It. This is for you if you enjoy sex when you do it, but you rarely feel desire in advance. You’re experiencing “responsive desire”: your desire follows physiological arousal instead of preceding it. So just do it, and your desire will kick in.
Exercise Before Sex. Increasing your blood flow with physical activity isn’t only good for the heart and muscles — it’s also good for sexual function and pleasure. One of the best things we can do to speed up arousal and orgasm is regular exercise, especially before sex.
Sex Before Food. Eating before sex sends the blood flow to your digestive system instead of your genitals. Have sex first, then eat. Sexual arousal will be easier, orgasms will be more reliable, and you will relish that meal afterward.
Use Your Words. Learning to talk about sex is the key to getting what you want. A long-term partner is likely to continue doing what used to work, even if it doesn’t work for you now, unless you redirect the action. A new partner wants to know how to please you. Speak up.
Have Sex More Often. Difficulty with arousal and orgasm is a good reason to have more sex, not less. The penis and the clitoris require blood flow for engorgement. The more you engage in stimulation – partnered or solo — the more easily the blood flows to the genitals.
Committing to a year of resolutions is daunting, I know. But did you know that it takes just three weeks to make or break a habit? So how about selecting two or three of these resolutions and committing three weeks to seeing how they work for you? Chances are you’ll want to keep doing them. Let me know!
Let’s get one misconception out of the way. Sex without intercourse is still sex. Real sex. Satisfying sex. Hot sex. The idea that only intercourse constitutes “real sex” limits our creativity and our satisfaction.
Sex is any activity that arouses you and brings you sexual pleasure.
So begins “A Senior’s Guide to Sex Without Intercourse” which I wrote for Senior Planet. I spell out some reasons why you might want or need sex without penis-in-vagina (PIV), how you might want to explore sexual expression without vaginal penetration, activities to help you prepare for this change, and ways to communicate about it. I hope you’ll read it and post your comments there. Let’s make that Guide just the beginning of the discussion.
One of the topics I discuss is how to negotiate what you want sexually, whether you’ve been with your partner for decades or you’re just starting to get intimate. I offer these opening statements if you’re starting a new relationship and you want to become sexual in ways that do not involve PIV:
- I’m very attracted to you. Intercourse is not possible for me, but I’d love to explore all the other ways we can enjoy each other.
- I’m excited about where this is leading. Can we explore how to make love to each other without the goal of intercourse?
- I have to tell you that we might not be able to have intercourse. But, if you’d enjoy it, I’d love to use my mouth and hand to satisfy you.
Have you negotiated sex without PIV with either a longtime or a new partner? What words did you use to open the conversation? I invite you to post your comments here. (I want everyone including readers in their seventies, eighties, nineties to feel comfortable with the language here, so express yourself candidly but in words that wouldn’t get bleeped on network TV.)
Straight people should take from gay people these four magic words: “What are you into?” That question, when two guys are going to have sex, is always asked. When it’s a man and a woman, all too often, consent is granted and then all communication ceases. What’s happening next is assumed: if it’s heterosexual sex, it’s penis in vagina.
We don’t have that default assumption in gay land. When two guys say yes to sex, it’s the beginning of a whole other conversation. Everything has to be discussed and negotiated. Asking “What are you into?” is so empowering, because at that moment, you can rule anything in and anything out. It’s a sexy negotiation. Straight people sometimes say to me, I wish I could have more sex. I say, “You could, if you had a broader definition of sex.”
In the Resources section of “A Senior’s Guide to Sex Without Intercourse“, I recommend several books. To make them easy to find, here they are with direct links to their Amazon pages — or your local independent bookstore can order them for you.
How can I tell my man what I want? If I get even slightly turned on, he takes it as a sign that he can simply proceed straight to the gate for take-off. He’ll stimulate me for 30 seconds and get inside me. And in my mind I’m thinking: ‘I wish he would move a little gently, have his hands all over my body. Then I might ask him to kiss me in a certain spot, so I’ll give him a sort of hint of what would feel good.’ Sometimes he gets it, and he responds. But other times – he doesn’t seem to hear me.
Amy, age 43, sent this question to therapist and author Esther Perel. Although Amy is a little younger than our age group, both the question and Perel’s answer are so relevant to the readers of this blog that I asked Perel for permission to republish her blog post here. She graciously agreed. Here’s what she told Amy:
If everyone communicates their needs openly, everyone gains.
Women are constantly told that they need to tell their partner what feels good to them sexually, to be proactive with their desire, to be more assertive and bold. For many people, this is easier said than done. It can feel safer to remain passive and take from our sexual encounters what we can get. Women often tell me that they really like to linger in the pleasures of the preliminaries, that they like them as much, if not more, than the act itself, yet they tend to accommodate their partner and abdicate their wants. They tend to go along with a more stereotypically male definition of sex, where foreplay is the mere introduction to the ‘real’ thing.
However, it is precisely the anticipation, the seduction, the playful touch, the kissing, stroking, and gazing into each other’s eyes – all the stuff that fuels desire and excitement – that make them feel desired. It is those exquisite aspects of foreplay that, for women, often make up the real thing.
Many of the women I work with in my practice worry that they take too long to climax, that their partner will be bored. Once he reaches orgasm, they give up theirs as if his rhythm defines hers. They fake their orgasms, they pretend. They tell me: ‘His ego is too fragile’. ‘I don’t think he can hear me’. ‘I don’t want to hurt him.’ Or: ‘I don’t want him to be angry and to reject me.’ Or even, sometimes, ‘I don’t know what I want, all I know is that I don’t want what I have.’ Men like to hear the guidance, but they can’t stand the criticism. It eats away at their sexual confidence. ‘No sooner do I touch her than she starts dictating to me what to do. I feel so tense following instructions. This tickles, this rubs. Here, she is too dry; there, she is too wet. Slower, faster, harder, softer, it doesn’t stop.’
Obviously, it’s tough on the partners too — these sorts of requests can come across as commands at a time when both people in the room are at their most vulnerable.
Talk about your preferences and desires before and after intimate moments, not only during them.
For women and for men, when we feel sexually frustrated we are likely to be irritable, less patient, more aggressive and tactless. Instead of saying ‘I would like more stroking’, we say: ‘Why do you always go straight for my breasts?’ or ‘You never kiss me’ or the crowning put-down: ‘I never had this problem with my previous girlfriend.’ As a rule, sexual communication around what we want and how we want it is better discussed outside the bedroom, not while we are engaging with each other. Expressing appreciation for having your partner in your life is critical to helping him or her feel confident to take in all your needs, without seeing your complaint as a diminishment of his masculinity or her femininity.
Utilize non-verbal communication.
I am a therapist, so I obviously value talking, but I also challenge the insistence of the verbal as the superior way to communicate. We speak with our bodies, with actions, with a gaze. The body, as a matter of fact, is our mother tongue; we express so much in the physical language long before we can utter one word. While I think that talking is important for couples, we are facing a situation where sharing is not a choice but a mandate. There is this perceived wisdom that if you don’t share or talk, you are not close. That is a false assumption and one that puts a lot of pressure on men in particular. There’s a lot to gain from showing your partner, non-verbally, what you like. Gently take his or her hand, guide it, move around so that you have got it where you like it.
Although this is a heterosexual example, I also see examples of a similar dynamic in same sex couples — where one partner capitulates to the other’s needs, or simply does not feel comfortable communicating what he or she wants to experience. Both men and women fall in the trap of believing that if you need to discuss methods, it means there is not a good sexual connection. How about rethinking that? Doesn’t it make more sense that if you feel you can communicate your wants openly, that’s the ‘real’ sign of a good sexual vibe?
Do you effectively communicate your physical and emotional needs to your partner(s)? If not, what’s holding you back? What tactics have been most successful to getting what you want? Leave your comments below and join the conversation.
Esther Perel is recognized as one of the most insightful and provocative voices on personal and professional relationships and the complex science behind human interaction. Perel is a practicing psychotherapist, celebrated speaker, and the best-selling author of Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence, translated into 25 languages. The New York Times, in a cover story, named her the most important game changer on sexuality and relationships since Dr. Ruth.
Perel is a two-time TED speaker: Her critically acclaimed viral first TED talk reached nearly 5 million viewers in the first year and recently released second one, on the topic of infidelity, was viewed nearly 2 million times in the first month. Watch her here: