Like Great Wine, Sex Can Get Better with Age: Strategies for Satisfying Sex Throughout Your Entire Life
Staff Therapist Dr. Alishia Kalos is a licensed psychologist with specialized experience in addressing sexual and relational concerns such as intimacy, communication, desire, arousal, satisfaction, pain, relationship contract negotiation, unusual sexual interests, and sexual behavior challenges. Alishia sees clients at our Center City and Paoli locations.
Sexual health and intimacy are core elements of the human experience. Research shows that sexual health has a substantial influence on our overall quality of life at any age. For instance, high sexual quality of life is associated with improvements in relationship satisfaction, love, commitment, and stability over time. Additionally, in the United States, sexual satisfaction has also been associated with positive effects in other areas of life such as marriage, work, relationships with children, and finances. That means that there are some very real benefits to maintaining a healthy and fulfilling sex life throughout your lifetime! Unfortunately, many individuals and couples find that maintaining sexual health is easier said than accomplished.
Most people will experience challenges with their sexual health at some point during their lifespan. Let’s face it—life comes with a series of challenges to overcome along the way. There are countless gifts in life that can only be experienced with the maturity and personal growth which results from overcoming life’s challenges. Many sex therapists, myself included, believe that the same is true for our sex lives.
Natural Life Transitions as Opportunities
Over the lifetime we are bound to face a number of experiences that may negatively affect our sexual experiences. For instance, consider the fact that the mechanics of men and women’s bodies change with age. Some women may experience decreased vaginal lubrication or vaginal elasticity that could contribute to pain and discomfort during intercourse. Others may experience health problems, such as diabetes, cardiac illness, or prostate problems that interfere with the ability to obtain or maintain an erection.
If our sexual organs don’t work the way that they did during our 20’s, then sex won’t work the same way either. But, think about it–do we even want it to?! What if I told you that life has more to offer than reminiscing about the sex we used to have when we were younger?
Many people find that the sexual challenges they face over their lifetime inspire opportunities in their sex lives. These opportunities include experiencing their sexuality in new ways, adding depth to their intimate relationships, and enhancing their sexual enjoyment. It just so happens that the ingredients for satisfying sex with age are also ingredients for satisfying sex throughout the lifespan.
Consider the following strategies to support the enrichment of your sexual experience at any age:
- Keep it real, and keep an open mind.
We should try our best to have realistic expectations about sex later in life. We’ll need to keep an open mind about adjustments that may need to be made due to aging related changes. If sex in your 20’s is like crisp refreshing grape juice, then imagine sex later in life as a refined Cabernet Sauvignon. Just as fine wines are best enjoyed when sipped slowly and savored; older men and women get the most out of sexual encounters that are unhurried, open to new experiences, and met with a curious mind. Later in life, both men and women require increased amounts of time to experience satisfying levels of arousal –so savor the experience and don’t rush things! Set aside time when giving and receiving pleasure can be your priority; not just means to an end.
Let’s continue with the wine metaphor. Fine wines are also best appreciated when we use all five senses, experiment by trying different varieties, and identify the subtle differences that best please our palate. Sex with age is also most satisfying when we use the same strategies. To incorporate all five senses, we can practice focusing our attention on the present and taking in all of the details of the moment.
We all can get caught up in distractions about our day, stressful events, or making plans. When this happens, try gently reminding yourself to notice the aroma of the burning candle, the pleasant feel of your partner’s touch, the way he looks at you, the words she whispers in your ear, or what each kiss tastes like. To add variety, set aside time to curiously explore each other’s bodies and make sure to focus on parts other than the genitals. From paying attention and adding variety, we gain a deeper understanding of what pleases us as well as what best pleases others.
Also, it’s just as important to keep an open mind about our expectations for what constitutes satisfying sexual intimacy. For instance, consider that not all sexual encounters need to result in penetrative sex or orgasm in order to be satisfying. While maintaining respect for you and your partner’s preferences and beliefs, consider the range of potentially satisfying activities that you bring you and your partner closer.
- Speak up.
As we gain a deeper understanding of what best pleases us, the next step is to speak up and communicate this key information to our partner. Positive messages tend to be better heard than critical ones. Vocalize things that you specifically liked that your partner did or may enjoy more with a minor adjustment, instead of emphasizing things that they should do differently. Communication is the essential ingredient for a satisfying sex life at any age and is especially important when adjusting to age-related changes.
The doctor’s office may be another important place to speak up about sexual issues. There are a number of health issues that can also contribute to temporary or long-term challenges in sexual functioning.
Some of the most common health issues linked to sexual issues includes:
- Heart disease
- Clogged blood vessels (atherosclerosis)
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Treatment for cancers such prostate, cervical, or breast cancer
- Surgeries or injuries that affect the pelvic area or spinal cord
- Certain prescription medications
- Smoking/Tobacco use
- Peyronie’s disease (scar tissue inside of the penis)
- Alcoholism and other forms of substance abuse
- Sleep disorders
- Parkinson’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis
If you are receiving treatment for a medical issue, doctors may not always ask you about sexual side effects. That does not mean that sexual side effects are any less important than others! If you are experiencing health issues which have also impacted your sexual experience, ask your medical team about available options.
- Talk to a specialist.
While many individuals and couples are able to overcome sexual issues without professional consultation, many choose to meet with a specialist as part of their journey. Sex therapists are therapists with advanced training in helping individuals and couples to address sexual issues and enhance their sexual quality of life.
When it comes to sex therapy, credentials matter. Experts stress the importance of finding a licensed therapist with specific training from a program recognized by the American Association of Sexuality Educators Counselors and Therapists (AASECT). The AASECT website is an excellent place to start looking for a therapist. The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT) website is another great place to look for sex therapist. It is important to note that not all therapists listed on these websites are licensed.
While sex therapists come from many different professional and training backgrounds, what’s most important is to find someone who is a good fit for you. Keep in mind that if you would prefer to work with a therapist who is well-versed in working with people with your sexual orientation, race, religion, gender identity, or lifestyle, make sure to ask about that when scheduling an appointment or during your initial sessions.
Without fail, life is likely to bring on challenges that impact our sexual well-being. With the combination of an open mind, communication, and willingness to seek consultation from a medical or mental health specialist when needed, our sexual quality of life, like a fine wine, can flourish with age.
Dr. Alishia Kalos is a licensed psychologist with specialized experience in addressing sexual and relational concerns such as intimacy, communication, desire, arousal, satisfaction, pain, relationship contract negotiation, unusual sexual interests, and sexual behavior challenges. Alishia is accepting new clients at our Center City and Paoli locations. Request an appointment today.