5 Ways Seniors Can Get Back To Having Great Sex Lives
Kelly Gonsalves is a sex educator, relationship coach, and journalist. She received her journalism degree from Northwestern University, and her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.
Sex is good for your health, and some research suggests it might be particularly beneficial to older people: It keeps your body physically active, keeps the mind sharp, encourages intimate connections with others, and instills a sense of joy and excitement into your life.
Despite the cornucopia of benefits, we don't talk a lot about seniors having sex. Part of it simply has to do with cultural narratives about sexuality: The dominant image we all carry of what sex "looks like" (as told to us on screens big and small) always involves people who are young, thin, able-bodied, physically fit, and conventionally attractive. The lack of representation or conversation about other types of people having sex contributes to an unspoken assumption that those folks just aren't doing the deed.
But the truth is, racking up years doesn't mean your sexual needs automatically vanish into thin air. Sure, your sexual preferences and appetite might shift as you get older, but there's no reason to believe all people over the age of 60 just suddenly prefer celibacy.
Are 60-year-old, 70-year-old, and older people sexually active?
Yes! They certainly can be, and many are. The 2017 National Poll on Healthy Aging found 40 percent of men and women between ages 65 and 80 are sexually active. Among people in relationships, that rate bumps up to 54 percent. Some studies suggest there might be differences between men's and women's sexual interest: One U.K. study found 60 percent of men between ages 70 and 80 are having sex, compared to 34 percent of women in that age group. That said, women over 70 years old report that their sex lives are way more pleasurable now than when they were in their 40s.
Of course, some people as they get older do just become less interested in explorations of the flesh. For many, that has to do with health: Your hormones, sexual responses, and general physical condition may shift with age, making some sexual activities a lot more difficult or just exhausting than they used to be. For others, losing a spouse to death or divorce later in life can also make sex seem less enticing or accessible.
Other than consent and physical safety, there are very few "shoulds" when it comes to sex. If you want to be having sex after 60, 70, 80, or 90 years old, you have every right to pursue an enjoyable and fulfilling intimate life.
The importance of talking about your sexual needs.
A recent study published in the journal PLOS ONE found nearly 60 percent of older people are unhappy with their sex lives. One big reason why? They weren't talking about it. But those who had asked for support from others, from their doctor to their spouse, were much more likely to be sexually active and sexually satisfied.
Here's the thing: Most things in life get easier the more we talk about them. When it comes to sex—something that carries so much stigma on its own, let alone the added invisibility of seniors having sex—talking becomes especially important. Moreover, if physical ailments, a sense of isolation, or something about your environment is keeping you from having the sex life you want, it's important to seek help from others. There's absolutely nothing shameful about advocating for your sexual well-being: It's a vital part of your physical, mental, and spiritual health.
If you're of a certain age and looking to reconnect with your sexuality or simply give a little more attention to your sex life, here are a few ways for you to get started:
1. Ask your doctor.
Especially if you've got a lot of other health problems to deal with, your sex life might feel like a pretty low priority and perhaps nor worth bringing up at your next doctor's appointment. But the truth is, your doctor knows your health condition well and can offer up specific suggestions for how to help improve your ability to have sex, whether that's prescribing medications or adjusting your health plan in a way that keeps your sexual functions thriving.
2. Find a sex therapist or other professional who works with people in your age group.
If talking to your main health care provider doesn't feel right to you or doesn't bear a lot of fruit, try a sex therapist or another professional who can help you feel comfortable and safe exploring your sexual needs. You might be surprised what kinds of services exist out there—sex coaches, sex educators, tantra teachers, sexual healers, some doulas, and many other professionals can all guide you and give you support exploring this part of your life.
3. Open up to your friends and romantic partners about sex.
Communication about sex, both with your partner and with others, can lead to a more satisfying sex life. If you have a romantic partner right now—even if it's someone you've been with for decades—consider speaking with them about how they feel about your sex life right now and whether they'd be interested in reprioritizing it. Tell them what you've been thinking about, what the health benefits are, and ways that you'd like to start dabbling in this area again.
Additionally, talking about sex with your friends has been shown to improve sexual confidence and sexual self-efficacy. As you develop comfort talking about this intimate part of your life, you'll also find it easier to talk about your needs and ask for what you want.
4. Find a community or retreat to help you explore.
If you don't have close friends who you want to share this stuff with, seek open-minded communities of people in your age group with whom you can engage in more dialogue about sex. Intimacy retreats and workshops can be a great way to learn, reconnect as a couple, and find others who are on a similar journey. (Bonus: If you or your partner feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, or shy about the idea of exploring sexually, these types of events can be very welcoming, approachable spaces to help you open your mind, get more comfortable, and shed some of your apprehensions.) If you're not sure which events are right for you, you can always reach out to the organizer to get a sense of the target age groups.
The internet is also a vast and wonderful resource for finding such communities in your neighborhood: Google around, look through Meetup.com, or post in social media spaces you feel comfortable with. You can also try asking people in real life who are your age to see what resources they know about. While putting this article together, I spoke with several people who run private groups in their own neighborhoods for discussing senior sexuality.
5. Do some reading!
There are many excellent resources that can provide you with endless ideas, inspiration, and resources about exploring your sexuality at any age. Try these for starters:
- Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud About Senior Sex by Joan Price
- The Ultimate Guide to Sex After Fifty by Joan Price
- Price also runs an informative blog and newsletter about senior sex. (Be forewarned—it's explicit!)
- Dating After 50 for Dummies by Dr. Pepper Schwartz
- Age, Sex, and You, an online public health resource from the University of Sheffield
- AARP's sex and intimacy blog
6. Expand your definition of what sex means.
This one's important! As we get older, some types of sex that might've been exciting in the past are just less feasible—but that doesn't mean all sex now needs to be off the table. For example, if sex in the past meant a lot of thrusting and acrobatics, consider exploring other types of sexual expression and activities: Focus totally on using your hands, arms, and mouths, for example, to give and receive pleasure. Plenty of sexual acts will still yield those blissful neurochemical rewards. Cuddling is associated with significantly more sexual pleasure and more sexual satisfaction, for example, and even the brain can be a sex organ. Reading, watching, and creating erotica can be excellent ways to stimulate sexual energy.
There are so many ways to share passion, intimacy, and pleasure, both alone and with a partner, that have little to do with making the headboard shake. Find something that fits with your lifestyle, abilities, and interests.
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