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!
Because she never initiates anything I am assuming that she can live without sex. We once went five years of abstinence. This is really a problem for me as I need sex much more frequently. When sex occurs it is not great anyway, following the same pattern each time.
Since menopause my wife finds intercourse painful. Is this just because it’s been a long time since we had sex and the menopause has really kicked in? She never used to find it painful, but I noticed that she does not seem to become aroused much and vaginal fluid has become a thing of the past. Gel did not work either.
John went on to explain that he masturbates a couple of times a week to “fend off the urges that could lead to infidelity,” but he worries that this is harmful and he’s trying to stop. He admits that their sex life in earlier times wasn’t terrific, either — lights off, no variety — but they lived with it for the thirty years of their marriage. He continued:
I have racked my brain for a plan of action. I know the hard part is putting it across to my wife in a way which is pleasant and attractive. So my first move is to stop masturbating to stop the urge. I think that if I leave things until I get really desperate, I will have to communicate with her as the only option.
John’s story tugs at so many important concerns: lack of communication and his wife’s vaginal pain, lack of lubrication, and diminished desire. In my new book, Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex, I devote an entire chapter to each of these four problems. I wish I could send him the book now, but it won’t be out until June. Of course I’m not going to make him wait until June to get some direction.
First of all, John, your wife needs to get a medical evaluation for her vaginal pain. There can be several causes (which I go into in Naked at Our Age), and yes, there are solutions! A common cause is the tightening of the vaginal floor muscles after menopause when they don’t get regular practice relaxing through sexual arousal and orgasm. An excellent resource for making vaginal intercourse more comfortable is the Vaginal Renewal Program from A Woman’s Touch.
Please also try different lubricants. I don’t know which “gel” you used, but lubricants are very important at our age when our own lubrication decreases. These posts about lubrication will give you more information.
However, you’ve got to be able to talk about this problem in order to fix it! A sex therapist would be a great help here, especially since this isn’t a new problem. Sex therapists are trained to understand what’s preventing you from having a good sex life and offer strategies for improving communication as well as sex itself. This has gone on so long that although I could offer some communication tips, I think you do need a third person listening. If she wouldn’t be willing to go to a sex therapist, a couples therapist would be a good start.
For now, can you say something like this to your wife?
“Our marriage means the world to me, and I would feel happier if we could work on the problems that are interfering with our sexual intimacy. I think we need some help and guidance, because we’re staying stuck on our own. Could we see a doctor about your vaginal pain and talk to a counselor about how to bring intimacy back into our marriage?”
Please see also Yvonne Fulbright’s comments on communicating about sex.
Please realize, John, that there’s nothing wrong with masturbation at our age or any age. Our sexual urges tell us that we’re fully alive — they’re not our enemy.
I know this is a small answer to a big problem, John, but I hope it will encourage you to take the first steps at talking with your wife openly and lovingly and seeking professional guidance. Would you please let me know what you do and what happens?
“How do you talk about sex to a partner who shuts down conversation?” A reader asked. I’m republishing this 2008 post because Yvonne Fulbright’s information is vitally important for couples who need help breaking through the communications barrier.
I often hear from people having sexual problems with their partner. They may want more, less, or a different kind of quality of sex. Although sexual difficulties won’t magically go away by talking about them, effective communication is a big first step.
I asked certified sex educator Yvonne K. Fulbright for communications strategies she recommends to her clients who are having difficulty resolving sexual problems. “Unless you make your wishes known, your partner is not going to change or even attempt to fill your needs,” she says. “Humans can’t read minds, so you have to try to communicate your desires in order to get what you want out of a relationship.” Here are her suggestions for bridging the communications gap:
1. Let your partner know how you feel, e.g., “I am really hurt and confused that you haven’t wanted to make love for years.” It’s important not to attack your lover and to use “I statements” such as, “I miss having sex with you.” You cannot be faulted for how you feel, and expressing yourself this way is likely to get a more positive reaction than something like, “What’s wrong with you? You never want to have sex.”
2. Don’t make assumptions, which close off an open discussion and can cause your partner to clam up. Avoid questions that only invite a yes/no response. For example, say, “I was hoping we could talk about why we’re not having sex anymore,” instead of, “Are you not interested in sex because I no longer attract you?”
3. Pick a time when you can focus on just the two of you. Don’t have the conversation when you’re doing another task. Plan a time when you can create a private space to talk, and make it a communal experience, e.g., over a cup of tea. The more natural you can make the conversation, the less threatening it will be.
4. Do not accuse or blame your partner for the problem. Instead, communicate that you want to work on your problems as a team effort.
5. Pay attention to your own and your partner’s body language. A great deal of what you’re saying isn’t coming from your mouth, but from your stance, how you’re holding your arms, and your facial expressions. Do you appear defensive? Uncomfortable? Does your partner? Attention to body language will help you to gauge how the conversation is going.
6. Ask for suggestions on how to make things better, rather than telling your partner how it should be done. People are much more likely to act on what they see being possible vs. what someone dictates to them, especially in an intimate relationship. You, too, should also give suggestions, but they should come across as just that – suggestions.
–Certified sex educator Yvonne K. Fulbright, PhD, MSEd is the author of several books, including Sultry Sex Talk to Seduce Any Lover, Better Sex Guide to Extraordinary Lovemaking, and The Hot Guide to Safer Sex. Visit her websites at http://www.yvonnekfulbright.com/ and http://www.sensualfusion.com/.
“Way to go, Chip. Well said,” Gruffalo commented on my July 9, 2009 blog post, Chip August: “Sex isn’t just a piece of skin wiggling around in some other skin.” “Now the really silly thing is that the first step is difficult. If you love, cherish and like each other, but you’ve lost the habit of physical intimacy and lovetalk, it feels strange, embarrassing and artificial to start. I know, one step at a time, but how to start?”
Chip returned a thoughtful response that was so helpful that I’m devoting this post to it, rather than leaving it as a comment that might be overlooked:
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to your question. Without knowing your history, how you came to lose the habit of intimacy, what each of you dreams your relationship could be, it’s very hard to tell you what your best first step might be.
If you were a client in my Intimacy Coaching practice, I would ask, Have the two of you ever talked about the “inertia” that has turned your sex life into a dead zone? Is either of you on medications that might be reducing your libido? Has erectile unreliability become an issue? There are so many ways to be unhappy.
In general, if we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we’ve always gotten. A great way to move past the embarrassment and artificiality is to change something — anything. A place for you to start is to notice and change your thoughts that get in the way of you starting.
Noticing and actively changing thoughts that don’t serve you is a good way to get up the courage to start a conversation. Perhaps begin a conversation by sharing your appreciation of your partner. Another step might be to reach out and hold hands when you are walking together. Another step might be to print out this page and ask your partner to read it. Another step might be to ask, “May I gently caress your face?”
The best first step is whatever step you actually take.
Be bold. What have you got to lose?
Chas. “Chip” August is a Personal Growth and Couples Intimacy Coach, host of “Sex, Love & Intimacy” an internet radio show, and author of the soon to be published “Marital Passion: The Sexless Marriage Makeover.” Chip sees clients at his office in Northern California and also does phone-coaching, phone: 1(650) 391-7763, email him at ChasAugust@gMail.com