“Part of embracing our sexuality across the lifespan means redefining what sex means at different stages of our lives. Things change. We change. But with knowledge and creativity, sex can remain a part of who we are. How we do it might look differently, but our sexuality is ageless if we want it to be.” Joan Price, “The Ultimate Guide to Sex after 50: How to Maintain—or Regain—a Spicy, Satisfying Sex Life.”
Recently, I presented a talk at the AARP Vital Aging Conference in Eugene, Oregon, titled “Empowered Sexuality: Reclaiming Sex After 50.” I packed a lot of information into my talk, concluding with ten suggestions for making sex a positive part of life at age 50 and beyond. The following is a summary of my ten suggestions for those who could not be present or who were present but couldn’t take notes fast enough (an 18 minute speech goes by quickly!)—my speech had far more nuance so look for future, full-length blog posts on some of these subjects.
1. Make sex what YOU want it to be
Sex is the most personal, intimate, deepest part of you
Now is the perfect time in your life to examine all of the cultural messages that have formed your sexual attitudes, feelings and beliefs—to discard what no longer works and to claim what does
Sorting through our experiences with sex—good and bad—is equally important and can facilitate profound healing
2. Allow yourself to feel the emotions you may have around loss
You may need to grieve if you find yourself feeling/saying:
“But I just want sex to be the way it was when I was 20"
Holding a sexual vision that is 30, 40, 50 years out of date with the body you have is a recipe for depression and low sexual desire
Go through the grieving process!
Get to acceptance and enjoy the body you have!
3. Reject cultural messaging that excludes you:
Our culture is cruel about sex and aging
Movies generally depict older people having sex as awkward—laughable
Many health care providers won’t even ask older people if they’re having sex
We are seen as: “too old” “too wrinkled” “too ugly.”
Who made that rule? Who gets to say that sex is only for younger people in perfect bodies? Nobody!
YOU get to decide that you are beautiful, sexy, masculine, and worthy of sexual intimacy.
Read Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex/author Joan Price’s story about her lingerie photo shoot at age 66
4. Reject cultural messaging that limits “sex” to intercourse
There is a whole menu of sexual activity that gives participants intimacy, connection and tremendous pleasure outside of intercourse:
Long cuddle/stroking sessions
Use of sex toys
For those who are uncomfortable about the thought of sex toys, think of it this way:
Sex toys are to pleasure as hearing aids are to hearing or eyeglasses are to sight: a way to enhance sensory experience
5. Get educated about sexuality and aging: Read books and online resources on the list I provided:
Learn the facts about STIs
The highest rate of new STI cases is in people over 50!
Learn how to have a safer sex conversation
Never have unprotected sex with someone whose STI status you do not know for certain! (And without a medical test showing you that and knowledge of the person’s sexual history, you can’t know this!).
Make your policy be: safer sex or no sex/No exceptions
Use condoms and extra lubricant
Consider female condoms
It is easier for women to get STIs: tearing of fragile vaginal tissues
6. Get intimately familiar with your changing body
Aging bodies may respond differently!
Touch that feels great one day may be irritating the next.
Self-explore: Become the expert in YOU--Reject cultural or religious messaging that says it is not ok to masturbate!
If you know your body, you’re in charge:
You know how you experience pleasure and can:
Enjoy pleasure yourself
Teach your partner how you like to be touched
Talk more easily to your health care provider about what’s going on with you
The ability to communicate about what’s going on with your body is vital information in a relationship.
7. Learn to communicate with your health care provider!
Tell your Health Care Provider if you are sexually active!
In 2011, Medicare started covering annual STI screenings; if you are sexually active, ask for a screening!
Health care providers may not ask:
Assume you’re not having sex b/c you’re older
OR be uncomfortable talking about sex in general or to an older person
Take charge of your health and this conversation
8. Use products that help enhance safety and pleasure.
Use a good quality organic lubricant** (NOT K-Y Jelly/Astroglide!) See Enhance Your Pleasure: Know Your Lubes
9. Keep having sex! Use it or lose it!
Vaginal tissues stay healthier with regular penetrative sex
The more erections a man has, the more he will be able to have
10. Continue to enjoy sensual touch!
We never lose our need for touch and connection
Cuddling, stroking, spooning, holding hands: great ways to experience intimacy!