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Love & Sex

Redefining Intimacy and How to Enjoy it in Your 60s and Beyond

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Sex we talk about all the time – on TV shows and the campaign trail and stand-up comedy routines. It’s a subject we just can’t get enough of.

We just don’t bring it up much when the subject is sex among older people. Sex among seniors is all but a mystery to many, and a complicated territory to the people who live it and may need to talk about it the most: people in their sixties and older.

But the truth is, seniors are having more sex than many think and are doing it in ways that redefine intimacy, tailoring it to the physical and emotional needs of people who grow, and change, as they age. Things change — bodies, relationships, needs and expectations.  But an interest in intimacy and sex, it turns out, does not.

According to a National Poll on Healthy Aging survey released by a group of researchers at the University of Michigan last May, some 40% of those between the ages of 65 and 80 declared that they were “currently sexually active.”

The number drops to 25% between the ages of 76 and 80. It’s also noted that older women are likely to be more extremely or very satisfied with their sex lives than men. One more intriguing aspect of the study: Only 17% of respondents reported speaking with their health care provider about their sexual health in the past two years.

And that is the problem, says Joan Price, sex advocate and author of The Ultimate Guide to Sex After 50: How to Maintain – or Regain! – A Spicy, Satisfying Sex Life.

“We need to redefine at this time of life what sex is, beyond the very narrow definition of intercourse,” she explains. “Your life is different, your body is different – your understanding of sex needs to keep up with what’s going on.”

Price offers a few general pointers to keep in mind when contemplating how to enjoy intimacy in your sixties and beyond:

Redefine what pleasure can mean: “Plenty of people may enjoy sex the same way their entire life, but if you have this narrow notion of what intimacy is then you might be missing out on what’s best for you as you reach new stages in your life,” shares Price. You have to adapt creatively.

Price suggests we need to redefine what good sex means, sex that we really enjoy and look forward to. She mentions the name of a workshop she sometimes gives: Great Sex Without Penetration, which is also available as a webinar. “Pleasure is about expanding what good sex is and what you do instead of or in addition to intercourse,” she says. Too often, people may lose their sexuality only because they don’t expand it. They think, “Oh sex used to be that and that isn’t happening now; therefore sex isn’t happening now. But that’s not really true. Our skin is our largest sex organ, and the brain is the most powerful sex organ we’ve got. It’s important to put them both to use.”

Communication is crucial: Price tells the story of how she received a comment on a website once from a man concerned that his wife used to love a particular form of foreplay, but no longer seemed aroused by it. Around the same time, a woman emailed that she didn’t want to hurt his feelings, but that same aforementioned act doesn’t feel good anymore. “What should I do?” Price never knew for sure that the woman was the one the man wrote about, but guesses that these two were a couple in deep need of communication.

“It’s a big problem because most of us who are over 50, 60, 70, were never taught to talk about sex and really not talk about sexual pleasure,” notes Price. “Most of all, we were not told that when we get older what arouses us changes.”  She suggests we may need a different kind of stimulation, and erogenous zones that used to be pleasurable may be different than they used to be. “For all of this we need to give each other feedback in a loving and positive way,” she says.

Know thyself: “It’s important to consider what you do want, and what no longer gets your attention,” she says. Check yourself out. “It’s really wonderful NOT to be ruled by our hormones, and to be having sex for just plain pleasure and intimacy and all those wonderful feelings we get. Don’t be afraid to give yourself lots more warmup time – that’s a good thing.”

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