I invited my newsletter subscribers to tell me what they’ve learned about sex lately that has enhanced their sex life. The responses illustrate how far we’ve come in acknowledging that seniors are full human beings with sexual needs and desires, and how we are empowering ourselves to fulfill them.
Enjoy Sex Without Penetration
When penis-in-vagina (PIV) intercourse is no longer dependable or possible, it’s an opportunity to explore sex without penetration, which you may find gloriously satisfying. Here’s what readers said:
- “I’ve learned that sex without penetration provides me and my partner with at least as much core-shaking pleasure as does PIV. Both are very nice, but my notion of ‘real sex’ has broadened to center now on sex without penetration.”
- “My wife and I enjoyed a comfortable, mostly vanilla sex life for 45 years, and then it ceased after I lost the ability to provide a lasting erection. We accepted that as an inevitable, age-related thing and believed that sex without penile penetration was not complete. Research, including your blog and your books, opened my mind to the idea that sexual gratification for older folks was healthy, desirable, and neither inappropriate nor impossible without an erection.”
- “You may have issues maintaining an erection hard enough for sustained penetration. PIV sex is not the only way to have sex. You can have extraordinary pleasure and orgasms even with a soft penis.”
- “At 65, I’ve learned a more expansive idea of sex, one that isn’t so genitally focused. Every part of my body can be an erogenous zone. My partner and I enjoy hours of pleasuring each other, engaging in ‘outercourse’: manual, oral, and anal stimulation. We may have a single orgasm and continue pleasuring. We might enjoy several orgasms, or one extended orgasm. We have more of a sense of play and exploration.”
(For more about non-PIV sex, view “Great Sex Without Penetration,” my most popular webinar.)
Yes, aging brings obstacles to good sex. That’s no reason to give up. Instead, explore solutions, as these readers did:
- “I honestly didn’t know our sex drives would slow down. Nobody tells you that a strong libido has a shelf life. Realizing that the days of spontaneous combustion were over for both of us, I felt like I’d been ripped off by life. With time, laughter, tears, and a lot of talking and thinking — plus a vibrator, erotica, and soft porn — my husband and I created a place where sex is a wonderful mini-vacation where we give and receive pleasure. It’s no longer my obsession, but it’s also not an afterthought.”
- “What to do when you realize that the only sex you know and have enjoyed for 45 years won’t work anymore? My wife has lichen sclerosus of the vulva. We can’t have penetrative sex anymore because she is so sensitive. We had to completely relearn how to have sex, first conquering our belief that sex other than penetrative missionary sex was shameful or sinful. We have learned that we can continue to be intimate and enjoy sex together.”
- “Because I couldn’t orgasm with intercourse and sometimes I had to finish myself off alone, after 20 minutes of my husband doing everything in his power to make me come, I thought our sex life was deficient and substandard. Joan’s writing truly helped me. 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? I realized I was having quite a bit of real sex, and I didn’t recognize it. Two people who love the hell out of each other and fit together like puzzle pieces thinking that they’re defective because their sex life didn’t fit the standard definition? Your words freed me from feeling inadequate, broken, and damaged.”
Bring Back the Spice
If you’re in a long-term relationship that has lost its excitement, these readers share what works for them:
- “We find planned, weekly date-night encounters far more enjoyable than spontaneous episodes, because planning a scene enhances anticipation. It’s a form of extended foreplay. We are consistently ready for sex well before the next date-night, but we deny ourselves, heightening the desire to extreme levels for days.”
- “I’m 80, and my mind is my biggest turn on. I am no longer afraid to share my fantasies with my partner. It is a delight not to be ashamed of these wonderful and imaginative ideas where I get to determine what I experience in my mind while making love with my partner.”
- “After 33 years of marriage, I realize that both partners need to choose to keep their relationship spicy and active. Both must be honest and frank about their desires. Don’t be freaked out if you two 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.”
Explore New Kinds of Relationships
We were brought up to value only a lifelong, monogamous relationship. Sometimes that works for us; often it doesn’t. It’s never too late to explore a new relationship — or a new kind of relationship:
- “After much reading and heart-to-heart conversations with my more experienced lover, I’ve embraced consensual nonmonogamy at age 74 as an honest and happy-making way of being in a primary relationship. It allows each of us to celebrate both our independence and our connection based upon a solid foundation of frank, open communication. I have the freedom (should I so choose) to pursue other relationships without jeopardizing my highly valued primary tie. And, she likewise, has that freedom. Never taking my partner for granted adds a special sexy frisson to our connection.”
- “I’m 72. After my dear heart passed away and I hadn’t had sex for 5 years, I reconnected with my boyfriend from 43 years ago. Our relationship the first time around had been sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Now we’re in sync with getting up in the middle of the night to pee! We’re in a long-distance relationship for now, with sex being a big part of our daily conversations.”
- “After 26 years of an unfulfilling sex life that lasted minutes at best, I was alone and lonely. At 71, I met someone new. We can barely keep our hands off each other, like in the scene from West Side Story where everyone disappears into the scenery. We’re both widowed and realize that tomorrow is promised to no one. Whether or not it lasts, I plan to suck every bit of life and juice from this new relationship. I am burning daylight here.”
Sex Keeps Getting Better
Many readers wanted to share why sex at our age is better than ever:
- “We have a whole new attitude towards sex, accepting that whatever provides immediate pleasure also benefits our long-term health and relationship. We are more respectful of each other and display a high level of intimacy outside the bedroom as well as in. We are more comfortable with openly discussing sex than we ever were.”
- “Sex is better now than in our younger days because the pace and respectful desire to please each other is more refined than the more urgent hormone-driven copulations in the past.”
- “As I age, I am more sexually comfortable, adventurous and voracious. As a young woman, I was painfully shy, inhibited, and sure I wasn’t attractive. Now I feel strong, capable, sexy, attractive and free to express myself sexually and sensually.”
- “I love an older woman’s body. It’s about how she feels about herself, how much she gives herself up to pleasure and takes joy in her body. In the past decade, I’ve had partners dealing with wrinkles, stretch marks, cellulite, diabetes, heart conditions, Bell’s Palsy, IBS, and none of it has been an impediment to loving pleasure and desire.”
- “I’m much more excited about exploring than I ever was in my younger days. Touch is an integral part of the experience for me and I teach my partner how and where to touch me, and I do the same for him. I have fewer inhibitions and I’m focused on enjoying all the sensations.”
- “Sex in my 70s is relaxed, playful, fun, unhurried, experimental, and made wonderful by open, easy, frank communication with my partner about what we each do and don’t like. We feel closeness and trust, and our orgasms are happily extended as we pleasure one another without stress or anxiety or rush. Now is the best age in my entire life for uncomplicated, completely happy, and totally delightful sex!”
- “My lover (64) and I (88) just celebrated our 5th anniversary with a weekend frankly devoted to ‘sex at our age’ and loving it. It was a soul-blending celebration. Most important to us are (1) learning to listen before responding; (2) responding freely, not out of earlier patterns, but aware of the new definitions and opportunities for growth; (3) being willing to risk, try the new, re-invent. Of course, I’m vulnerable and have shed tears often. But, ah, the growth —beyond imagination.”
Some take-away tips from these reader experiences
- A sexual problem is a challenge, not a defeat. It’s an opportunity to learn and to explore.
- Expand your notion of what kind of sex is satisfying to you.
- Get creative. Try new things.
- Communicate with your partner about what you’d like to try.
- Treasure the pleasure!
This article was first published as “Sex at our Age: How far we’ve come” at SeniorPlanet.org, May 21, 2018.
“How are you managing/coping with sex in this seemingly endless pandemic as we close in on a full year?” I asked my newsletter subscribers in March 2021. Several of you sent me your comments. One person – we’ll call her “Cat” – sent a personal story that was so joyful and inspiring that I asked her permission to post it here. – Joan
I am Cat, age 60, a widow for one year. My best friend since elementary school passed away last fall, and I reached out to her husband, B., to check on how he was doing, We started video chatting three months ago. Much to my surprise, our connection has evolved into a deeper relationship.
We now spend most non-working hours together on a virtual app, and we literally go to sleep and wake up together. We go on virtual dates where we plan a menu and a movie or comedy show to watch together. We cook our meal together (they often do not look quite the same!), set our individual tables with lots of candles, and eat together virtually. We buy tickets to online concerts and watch at the same time, talking via messenger while watching.
We use end-to-end encrypted programs such as WhatsApp or Signal App. The Internet isn’t perfect – it has frozen or dropped at the most inopportune times! – but this relationship wouldn’t exist at this time without it.
We share virtual bath nights using Signal App. He gets to see all of me and vice versa! And yes, we have virtual sex. While it is not the same as in person, it can be explosive. It is almost like we are in the same room at the same time. He satisfies me sexually more than I ever experienced before.
We discussed the possibility of a visit, and as I knew what I hoped would happen, I requested and we agreed to have STI testing done as a prerequisite. We agreed to self-isolate to the best of our ability for two weeks, limiting contact to anyone else, wearing a mask and social distancing when errands could not be avoided.
He came for a two-week visit and oh, what an amazing time! He awoke something in me that I thought was dead. For the first time in years, I felt sexually satisfied. I loved waking up in his arms and was comfortable talking with him about anything. I wish it could have gone on forever, but he had to go back home to work.
We want to be together, but it is complicated as we are both five years away from retirement and live 16 driving hours from each other. His adult children are not happy that he is already seeing someone when their Mom just passed away last fall, and they are making it hard for him. Fortunately, my children just want me to be happy.
He is coming back for another visit, this time for a month. Who knows where this relationship will go, but I know where I would like it to go!
In my newsletter a few months ago, I asked my subscribers several questions. The response was so huge that I devoted an entire blog post to the answer to the first question: “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?” Read my readers’ answers here.
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?
* I wish she’d realize how difficult it is for me when I’ve tried romantic stuff and she doesn’t respond. I wish she allow herself to get turned on like she used to in her 30s.
* I’m 67, in a heterosexual relationship with a peer, 68, who has chronic back pain with acute flare ups which he fears and dreads. His solution for sex – on back, still as possible – leaves me frustrated. His anxiety has affected me, and I’m wondering how to speak up. Friends have suggested sex toys. I’d like to lose my own inhibitions and ask for more foreplay.
* I’m in a relatively new relationship that was interrupted by breast cancer that required a mastectomy. Months after her final chemo treatment, there is no further evidence of cancer. The drugs that suppress estrogen also suppress libido. We are on uncertain ground. It’s difficult to talk about, because it is such a change from pre-cancer romance. I’m not sure what it is we are talking about some of the time: is it the shock of having had cancer, exhaustion from trying to get back up to speed at work, drug effects, or is it actually the relationship? All the things that used to work, don’t. It’s like we’re starting from scratch with a lot of baggage added. She once expressed her sense of how this relationship has gone for her as, “We were dating. Then I got cancer and everything focused on that. While you were looking after me the relationship grew deeper for you; for me it disappeared. Now I’m back and we are in very different places.” Patience is the key for both of us. Psychological recovery takes longer than physical healing, we both know that. Yes, I’m in love with her and I know she loves me; she says it often.
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?
* My sexual appetite and lack of inhibition are stronger than my husband’s. Part of me — the randier side of me — thinks it would be cool to have another partner. But my husband is emphatic that that would be grounds for divorce. It’s not worth it to me at this time to pursue it. Sometimes I believe that it’s attractive because, after 33 years, it’s just different.
* I am involved now with a man who identifies as polyamorous. I’ve been strictly a one man gal, and it’s been an eye opening experience to process this new paradigm. I love him, but only time will tell whether I can live a lifestyle that is so foreign to me. As I age, I am more sexually comfortable, adventurous and voracious! As a young woman I was painfully shy, inhibited, and sure I wasn’t attractive. Now I feel strong, capable, sexy, attractive and free to express myself sexually and sensually. As challenging as my current relationship is, I have never had richer, more vibrant, freeing conversations with any man I have been involved with. It is a gift, and no matter what happens, I will always appreciate what this man has brought to my life.
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.”
* My marriage before it ended: “Not only do I have to have sex with you, but I’m supposed to enjoy it?”
* “You’re too fat to fuck.” Still smarts after all these years.
What else would you like me to know?
* I want to learn how to love without fear, without clinging to the safety of old thinking. How to love extravagantly, with respect at all times for myself and my partner(s).
* I enjoy sex more now at age 66 because after many years, I’m more into the total experience that each encounter brings. When I was young, it was me and my partner getting to the big “O”. Now, it’s so much more. The passion, while still there, is not the rip off your clothes type passion. It’s the patience, if you will, of taking our time and enjoying each other’s bodies. It’s the expression of love and the communication that wasn’t there years ago. It’s the candles flickering in the darkness of the room. It’s the kissing and caressing. It’s the change that comes with each love making session. It’s our willingness to explore different “toys” and lubricants. Can we move and get into positions like 20 years ago – of course not. But what we can and do now that we didn’t do before is we can totally love, accept and appreciate each other for what we are. Seniors who take every bit of love making to the fullest every time.
Do you want to join in the discussion? I welcome your comments!
In a recent newsletter, I asked my subscribers these seven questions regarding senior citizen sex:
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!