“Meta-emotions are how you feel about how you feel…It’s how you feel about what you’re experiencing,” Emily Nagoski, “Come as You Are, The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life.”
“Old age ain’t no place for sissies.” Bette Davis
Aging is tough business, no doubt. In my own life, I’ve had to give up running due to arthritis in both hip joints and a long walk on concrete can leave me limping for the rest of the day. When I cycle, I have to take ibuprofen before I ride or I’m not sure I’d be able to complete even a 26 mile ride that’s mostly flat. As a woman who views herself as strong and unstoppable, these changes have been humbling. And don’t get me started on what I see in the mirror: who is this wrinkled woman staring back at me?
And yet, what is the answer? Do I just lie down and quit? Seriously. But why would I do that? Life really is good in my shoes. I still am quite strong. I lift heavy weights. I hike up Spencer’s Butte almost every day. When the weather warms I’ll be back on my bike. So, about the aging thing—it’s a matter of mastering how I feel about how my body is changing—as opposed to giving up or judging myself around those changes. If I accept myself as I am and choose resiliency, I can enjoy what I do have as opposed to feeling despair over what is different. Even just recognizing that it is different as opposed to not as good or the same as it once was helps a great deal.
This thinking applies to changes in our sexual functioning as well. Unless you’re incredibly fortunate, chances are, if you’re a person with a vagina, are post-menopausal and not taking bioidentical estrogen, testosterone and progesterone, you experience some degree of vaginal dryness, pain with intercourse and you may take longer to experience arousal and orgasm. If you’re a person with a penis, you may notice that it takes longer to get an erection, you may not experience the consistent firmness that came so naturally in earlier years, and your orgasms may not be as satisfying. If you’re dealing with circulatory issues, you may not be able to get an erection at all.
How we feel about our sexuality is complex at most stages of life, but it can be particularly challenging as we age for a variety of reasons:
· We may lack accurate information about what changes we may experience, and assume there’s something wrong with us;
· We may be unable to get information because we’re embarrassed to ask our health care providers and they may not ask about sex in aging people due to bias or discomfort. Most health care providers get very little sex education as part of medical training. Certainly, in the context of for-profit medicine, your provider may not even have time in your allotted 6-10 minute appointment to ask about your sexual functioning;
· Most harmful of all, instead of seeking information and talking to our partners about what’s going on, many people over 50 simply assume they are flawed and thus decide to quit seeking sexual connectivity of all kinds. When this happens, couples can drift apart and singles can isolate and feel loneliness and despair—avoiding dating or seeking relationships based on an assumption that they would not attract a partner because their sexual functioning is different than what it was as a younger person.
In working with clients over the last five years I’ve learned that it is important to recognize meta-emotions—how we feel about what’s going on—because negative meta-emotions are the enemy, not what’s happening in our bodies. Negative meta-emotions sabotage us by paralyzing us. In may cases, we can’t change what’s happening but we can change how we feel about it and there are plenty of ways we can adapt!
The most important point I can make: do not simply decide you’re not worthy of sexual connectivity because your body isn’t the same as it once was! I’ve seen so many couples, both long-term and brand new, create satisfying sexual and sensual connectivity once they get past the negative thinking. It really isn't all about intercourse.
So: talk about it! Don’t assume your sex life is over. Problem-solve. Be creative. Explore. Experiment. Be honest and vulnerable. You may be completely amazed at the satisfying sex life you can create through openness, a willingness to accept what is, and to try new things.
If you’re stuck, know that I’m here to help! Sex coaching is a highly effective modality for helping people to work through situations just like those discussed above. I look forward to assisting you!