No sex, and we can’t talk about it

Love and intimacy in old age…

“My wife and I are in our fifties and rarely have sex, about once or twice a year,” John wrote to me. “I cannot talk to my wife about it at all, as I suspect she is not interested.” Here is his story of looking for love and intimacy in old age:

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. Love and intimacy are important.

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.

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 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?