Here I was trawling the internet, searching blogs and bookstores, finding all the information I could to answer my question, ‘What has happened to my sex life?’. Why couldn’t I discuss sex with a friend, my doctor? Well, mostly we don’t – we older women – and rarely did so as younger women. To my surprise, as my research progressed, I also found that my husband of many years was wondering the same thing as I – and never in a million years would he consider talking to a friend or a doctor about the subject. And you’ve guessed it, at that point,
neither were we talking about sex to each other.
Gradually I realized that if I, as a reasonably intelligent 70+ year old, didn’t know or understand what was happening to me then it was quite likely there would be others of my generation in a similar situation. Rather than keep an amazing amount of information for my husband, Charlie, and myself, I decided to write a ‘self-help’ book for seniors who were asking the same questions about sex as I was. ‘Self- help’ seemed to be trendy and the book-shops are full of them.
This book wouldn’t let me do that. It decided it was to be a story, my story, but one in which situations I experienced and information gained might readily be shared to the advantage of the reader. My research and writing has taken me on quite a journey. I have discovered much about my past and present and also my body that was previously unknown or half known. As the journey progressed, Charlie and I renewed our intimacy and the book became his story too.
There are a couple of things I need to say here. Firstly, I have written this book from a heterosexual point of view because that is my experience and is not meant to exclude any members of the LGBTI community. I think much of what I have discovered will apply regardless of sexual persuasion. We are all human beings, with bodies, minds and desires who share much and have some differences. As older people we will experience similar changes to our bodies, our libidos, whether we love people of the same or opposite sex, or both.
Secondly, I am not a medical doctor or a sex expert. I am an older woman with a curiosity about what is happening to me and the person I love as we age together. What I have written about is based on what I have discovered as a lay-person from the considerable and growing amount of information available to the public. As most information can be interpreted in different ways, even by experts, I try to make it clear how I have made sense of things and where I think there might remain questions to be answered.
Although it usually helpful just to read of the experience of others in areas of relevance to ourselves, at the end of most chapters I have suggested a list of tasks and further reading to enhance the 'self-help' aspect of this work. Its aim is to assist readers in making their own journey of self-discovery, their own interpretation of the many facts and opinions in what is a growing area of interest: sex after 60 and beyond.
Above all, my hope is that my story will assist others to ask and answer questions about their aging sexuality and intimacy, to be surprised and pleased, and to say, ‘Lucky me, lucky us.’
From Chapter 5..
Sandra and I have had lunch together and are walking back through the city park to her apartment. Its autumn now and the sun is low in the afternoon sky deepening the gold and red leaf colours and their contrast with the still green. We have been talking about the ways our relationships might change as we grow older.
“I really like the idea of ‘living apart together’,” says Sandra, “although I think ‘friendship with benefits’ fits what I have with James a little better – there is not so much togetherness. We fit in after family and most friends. We talk about our families but not in a big way. And money – I have no idea how much he’s got, but we sort of share expenses. He doesn’t know how much I’ve got either!” She laughs and does a little skip. I think it’s pretty obvious just from her leather boots and cashmere scarf that she’s doing ok.
“On the other hand,” she says, “I suspect we would be there for each other in a crisis, at least to some extent. We’ve known each other for over a year now and we like each other. And we like similar things; food, cooking, same music, same politics.”
“Don’t you think this aging stuff is all about transitioning?” I ask. “You know, accepting the changes, working around them?”
“Mmmm yes,” – she stops walking and grins naughtily – “and I certainly hope to do some interesting new stuff within each transition. The ones I feel sorry for are the people who don’t seem to be able to solve their sex problems. You mentioned some people even seem to get angry – what’s the point, they must be so lonely?”
“Well, just look at Charlie and me,” I say. “We just stopped. We’re not angry about it but we’re not great either. Sex and intimacy seem to go together. When we were on the wane and losing that kind of intimacy we seemed much more likely to be irritated with each other – and then, less likely to have sex and so we got into a bind. And we didn’t couldn’t talk about it, just like the people I’ve been reading about.”
“Why did you stop?”
"I think it was probably because both our libidos became a bit dull. We just didn’t seem to feel like it anymore. But you know, well, sex isn’t very comfortable for me – in fact, it bloody well hurts. And Charlie is not… quite what he used to be.” I feel guilty saying that.
“According to Joan Price, the writer I was telling you about, these are pretty common problems – very common.”
“But you also tell me you can go on into you 80’s and I certainly intend to. I like that Betty Dodson you told me about. Goodness Cathy, lots of these people seem to be saying, ‘do it differently’. James and I certainly do. Rich laughter follows.
I want to ask what they do, but still can’t quite manage it...
From chapter 6...
So what to do when you are all set to go, the libido is desirous but the vagina remains unlubricated and the penis remains soft. Together – or solo – we can do it. Time to be creative: increase the time spent in foreplay, massage, pleasuring oneself or each other, stroking and oral sex. It seems this is a fine time to discover new erogenous zones and to be adventurous, use different lubricants, introduce sex toys. It is a time to take our time, talk to each other about ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ – what works and what doesn’t.
Being admired and desired, is said to be an important element in stimulating and maintaining a woman’s sexual arousal. Well, I agree with that. But I know Charlie also loves to be told he looks handsome, sexy, fit. He stands taller; do you know what I mean? I know we don’t look like we used to but there are other ways to see beauty. I love his grin, the sparkle in his eyes and I still happen to think he has a great ass.
And surely it is important for both men and women to feel their sexual performance will be accepted and safe from criticism. Perhaps this is particularly important for men. Dan Pollets writes that in his practice, “I have found men with relatively minor sexual dysfunction to be “high reactors” in that they feel terrible and ashamed about their reduced functioning. They experience it as a diminishment of self.”
Michael Castleman suggests men with ED (erectile dysfunction) and EDis (erectile dissatisfaction) learn to think differently about sex. He advises they should “ditch their preoccupation with their penis and focus instead on leisurely, playful, whole-body, massage-based sensuality”. This would suit me and my non-lubricating vagina perfectly; I will underline this before I hand it over to Charlie⁶. On the other hand, there is the advice to ‘use it or lose it’. Continuing some form of penetrative sexual activity, can help women to maintain vaginal shape and tissue strength. Men who continue to have sex are less likely to experience ED. For both sexes its about stimulating that blood supply to our sexual organs. It seems we need a nice mix of intercourse and outercourse as time goes by.
Once again it seems ultra-important we learn to communicate – talk to each other about our needs; to be creative about the things we can do to each other and to ourselves (who oils who and who pleasures who and who watches when); to find ways to make the atmosphere comfortable and relaxed for each other. This sounds like intimacy to me. I still have the yellow sticky-note marked for further inquiry.
It seems that accepting that one is not young, knowing about the changes that are happening to us will be pivotal in discovering, developing and maintaining a satisfactory – some say great – sex life as we age. It will help us to prepare for the transitions many of us will make. Understanding the ‘norm’ will provide a base-line and a buffer should we have to face the ‘ill health’ changes and challenges to our sexuality...