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!
I used to be eager for sex, easily aroused. My desire dipped after menopause and now barely exists. I can go weeks or more without desiring sex or thinking much about it. The funny thing is, if I get started, I like it, but it’s so hard to get in the mood.
The number one sex problem that I hear from women is the lack of desire for sex. They do still enjoy sex once they get started, they tell me, but they’re seldom in the mood ahead of time. It isn’t just a problem for women—many men also report decreased desire—but for women, it’s the primary complaint. The problem is that if we wait for the mood and don’t make sexual pleasure a priority, we’ll rarely have sex.
There are lots of reasons that you may be feeling decreased desire, but let’s cut to a solution that works first, and figure out the reasons afterward:
Instead of waiting for the mood, start getting yourself sexually aroused—on your own, with a partner, or with a vibrator. Just do it. The physiological arousal will trigger the emotional desire.
That’s the opposite of the way it used to work! When we were younger, our hormone-induced sex drive bombarded our brain and body with desire—especially during our most fertile times. This was simple biology. A glance, a thought, a murmur, a fantasy, or a touch sparked the mood. Once in the mood, we opened ourselves to the pleasures of physiological arousal. We got turned on, our arousal built, and we crashed joyously into orgasm.
But now, this all works the other way around. Instead of waiting forever for the mood to strike, we can induce the mood by letting ourselves get physiologically aroused as the first step. Arousal will lead to mood and desire, instead of vice versa.
Here are your new mantras:
- Desire follows action.
- Use it, don’t lose it.
- Just do it.
“You may have just saved my marriage,” a woman told me after I gave this suggestion at a presentation. Try it—you may feel the same!
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to approach our sexuality in this new way: Relax, start getting physically aroused, emotional arousal will happen, and voila, we’ll be in the mood. So the key is to commit to regular sexual pleasure, partnered or solo.
How does this translate to real life? Here are some tips:
- Schedule sex dates with your partner and/or with yourself at least weekly, more is even better.
- Exercise before sex for faster arousal and easier orgasms.
- Create rituals with your partner that signal sex would be welcome.
- Allow plenty of arousal time — no rushing, no goals except pleasure.
- Make sexual arousal and orgasm a habit, whether you’re partnered or on your own.
I plan to write more about this myself, and there’s a good section already in The Ultimate Guide to Sex After 50: How to Maintain – or Regain! – a Spicy, Satisfying Sex Life which I hope you’ll want to read. — Joan
women. Could a desire pill really work? Do we even want it?
interviewed one of the top sex educators, Ellen Barnard, co-owner of A Woman’s Touch Sexuality Resource Center.
trials, most in phase 2 trials. No drug has been approved for the treatment of
low desire for women, also known as Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD). See this summary of the current state of the research
medications that are being investigated are designed to either overcome
inhibition or lack of motivation, or flood the person with such strong physical
sensations that she cannot ignore them easily. Or they manipulate the reward
system of the brain in ways that increase
the drive toward that sexual jackpot.
being more interested in sex is safe, healthy, or would even be effective over
the long term. Many of the drugs being investigated have a variety of side
effects, and some are quite undesirable. Testosterone can cause excess hair
growth, acne, lowering of the voice, and a decrease in good cholesterol, for
example. Other drugs show the potential for abuse, either by the woman herself or
by a partner who hopes to have a more willing lover.
seemingly so easy for men?
and their issues have many of the same origins as women’s do. However, we live
in a culture that reinforces men for a high interest in sex, and generally does
not see a high interest in sex to be a positive thing in women, unless a woman
is less interested in sex than her partner, and that lower interest causes
tension between them or distress in her. But even with culture condoning high
desire for men, approximately 20% experience low desire. For more info, here isa good overview.
interest. So it’s an idea, not a physiologic process, though it results in a combination
of brain and body responses. Desire may be first recognized as a thought, or it
may be a thought in response to a physical feeling. Many women believe that we
should feel something first, that sex starts with a twinge in the vulva or
elsewhere in the body, that she interprets as sexual interest and then allows
to blossom into more sexual interest and then maybe into sexual activity. If physiologic
signal is not as obvious because of aging, health, or stress, she may no longer
get the signal, and so she does not notice the thought.
loop that tells them that sex will hurt, and so they shut off any thought of
sex to avoid the pain. If a woman is able to get rid of the pain, she will
still have to convince her subconscious that sex is safe. Once she does that,
her thoughts of sexual interest often become more frequent.
in a healthy, rewarding relationship, the thought of sex is a safe thought and
is likely to mean that she will experience pleasure if she acts on that
thought, so she pursues sexual activity. Sex requires the feeling of safety. When
there is tension, distrust, fear, anger, etc., the mind does not perceive sex as
safe or pleasurable, so will not express desire.
(and men as well), you can see that it’s pretty complicated to consider a
medication to address the root causes of most of these issues.
is that drugs do best when there is a single, knowable cause for a symptom and
the drug directly addresses that cause by reducing or removing it. Sexual
desire is complicated, varies a lot from person to person, and has many moving
parts. The idea that a drug could be developed to change desire is pretty
far-fetched once you understand it that way, and one of our biggest fears is
that you end up with a drug that has pretty wide effects and some nasty,
unintended side effects.
address desire issues in ways that give individuals more control and more
understanding of their mind and body connections so that they can do their own
problem-solving and not be reliant on a pill or a doctor. Most people
can increase their experience of desire through a combination of getting
healthy, having a good body image, having a safe and trusting intimate
relationship, getting enough sleep, lowering stress and distractions, reducing
pain, and learning how to have pleasurable sexual experiences on a regular
He’s Just Not That Into It
After months of his wife’s pleading and an eventual ultimatum, “Ted” (not his real name) found himself sitting somewhere he’d never imagined—the office of a sex therapist. The three-year journey leading up to this day was painful; a strained effort along a cumbersome path littered with resentments, accusations, and much confusion.
As Ted told his therapist, “I just don’t get it. I love my wife. She’s intelligent, she’s compassionate. She’s a wonderful mother to our children. She’s my best friend and I love hanging out with her. I just don’t want to have sex with her anymore.”
It turns out Ted isn’t alone. In the United States, there are an estimated 10 million men in sexless, heterosexual marriages. And while many would assume that women’s lack of desire is the main culprit, recent trends indicate that it is just as likely the men who have lost that loving feeling. Many sex therapists are seeing an increase in heterosexual men coming to them for problems with desire, some noting that the percentage of men with low desire now outweighs the percentage of women.
Calgary sex therapist David Hersh, EdD, observes, “When I first started and I would see couples with discordant desire, it was mostly the woman who wasn’t interested. Now about 55% of these couples are seeing me because the man has lost interest.” Several therapists queried confirmed a similar trend in their practices.
It’s not clear if there are actually more men experiencing low desire or if it’s just that more men are now seeking help. Hersh says he believes the latter is the case. “Now, men are more informed about the condition. Traditionally there was a double standard where ‘real men’ always wanted to have sex. But you’re not so strange anymore if you don’t want it.”
Sex therapist Ricky Siegel agrees, stating, “I think there’s little doubt that the most obvious factor to the issue of low desire in men is that ‘Real men are not supposed to have low desire!’ So where it has become an acceptable script for women, it’s one of the things that men suffered about in quiet shame.”
In 2008, Bob Berkowitz and Susan Yager-Berkowitz published the results of their survey of over 1300 men who identified as no longer having sex with their spouses. The respondents listed several reasons for their loss of interest in sex, some of which included emotional struggles with things like depression and anger. Others reported they began avoiding sex because of problems with sexual functioning and eventually lost interest in sex altogether. And while many men initially suspect their loss of libido might be a result of low testosterone, research findings, such as those reported by Sari van Anders in the May, 2012 issue of Archives of Sexual Behavior, continue to suggest this is more often not the case.
Despite his assertion that everything was okay, “Derek” told his therapist that he reluctantly agreed to a session because, “I love my wife and I will do this if she feels it is important.” Derek’s wife “Cindy” was concerned because recently Derek had stopped initiating sex with her, something that she said was “unusual” for him.
Derek said was likely due to stress or perhaps “getting a little older” but when Cindy was invited to talk about experiencing her own sexuality, a different kind of narrative began to emerge. Cindy stated that in the beginning of her relationship with Derek, “Sex was okay but I was never all that into it.” But she added, “Lately, something happened. And now it’s like I can’t wait to jump on this man.”
It turns out that “something” was her reading the best-selling 50 Shades trilogy. Cindy’s sister had turned her onto the books and to Cindy’s surprise the books turned her on, prompting her to embrace and embody her sexuality like never before. After some contemplation, Derek finally conceded that Cindy’s sudden interest in sex had a surprising blanketing effect on his desire for her. “I don’t get it,” he said. “I mean, this is what I always wanted. But when it happened, and all of a sudden she’s wanting to go to the sex store and buy toys and try new things—I don’t know, I guess it kind of turned me off.”
When it comes to treatment, experts often recommend a physical examination (just to be sure) and then consultation with a sex therapist. But what can therapists do to help men get their mojo back? Fortunately, those who practice and write about clinical sexology are continually developing ways for therapists to think about and respond to requests for help. The traditional model is to look at problems in the relationship first. One of the current trends in therapy is to go right to the sex.
As for Ted, the specific course of his future sessions will be guided by the choices he and his therapist make as their therapy conversations unfold. Today’s session marks a turning point in his journey, a change of direction toward the possibility of getting out from underneath the weight of low desire.
“This was good,” he told his therapist at the conclusion of their meeting. “It feels good to get this off my chest.” He added, “I guess I feel a lot more hopeful, like this isn’t just the way it has to be when you get married and are with someone for a long time.”
Jason Kae-Smith is a certified sex therapist with a practice in Grand Rapids, MI. Among other things, he is interested in ways people are able to give value to sexual pleasure throughout their lifetimes. The article from which this is excerpted first appeared in Contemporary Sexuality, the journal of American Association of Sexuality Educators
Counselors & Therapists (AASECT).