Many of us assume that a diminishing sex life is a natural part of ageing. But renowned sex and relationship therapist Dr Marty Klein says it doesn’t have to be that way.
As the author of six ground-breaking books about sexuality, Klein has brought together his three decades of experience with couples and thousands of hours of academic research to write a new book, Sexual Intelligence – What We Really Want From Sex And How To Get It.
Most of us develop our models of sexuality in our late teens and 20s, when we have a young, healthy body. But, unfortunately, that only really lasts for a few years – or perhaps a couple of decades at best.
So, if we want to enjoy sex as our body changes – as we give birth, gain weight, go bald and get wrinkles – we need to develop a different model of sexuality too.
It is not what we do, but how we think about it that determines the quality of our intimate relationships, says Klein.
More than any tips or techniques, the key to fulfilling sex at any age is what he calls “sexual intelligence” – a shift in our preconceived ideas about ourselves, our bodies, our expectations and what is considered “sexy”.
Klein argues that if we can debunk the myths surrounding youthful sexuality and tackle the issues raised by the ageing process, we can enjoy sex as satisfying as when we were newlyweds in our 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond.
Here, we deal with some common concerns, and reveal how changing your mindset can overcome them.
EMBRACE YOUR WOBBLY BITS
Your body is not what it was – but it’s the only one you have, so make the most of it. It’s difficult to stoke and sustain desire if we constantly question our own attractiveness, as well as that of our partner.
In western society, we’ve learnt to feel ashamed when our body’s exterior doesn’t match what we feel on the inside. It’s a common complaint, according to Klein.
In other words, we worry we don’t fit the official definition of “sexy”.
With our bodies as the focus of so much frustration, disappointment and anxiety, it can be hard to imagine them as the focus of our own pleasure and of another person’s desire and delight.
Use your sexual intelligence:
Self-consciousness in the bedroom is the biggest passion-killer of all, says Klein.
No matter how uncomfortable you feel with your body’s appearance, you absolutely must ignore how you think your cellulite or tummy looks and allow sex to happen anyway, uninterrupted by your own self-consciousness or judgments.
Being sexy is about who you are, not simply what you think you look like. Try to think of all the pleasure your body has given you over the years, and all the fun you’ve had with it, rather than viewing it as an albatross or a millstone.
THE WASHING CAN WAIT...
We all prefer certain conditions to create the perfect intimate scenario: privacy, plenty of time, no work-based distractions, no unresolved rows to be smarting about – the list could be endless. Some are non-negotiable, but others are less so. We all lead busy and hectic lives and, if we still want to enjoy sex in spite of that, Klein asserts, we will almost always have to do so under less-than-ideal conditions – we cannot always be in Paris in the spring.
Assuming our most basic conditions are met, Klein counsels, we should try to lean towards saying “Yes” rather than towards “No, unless a long list of conditions is filled”.
Establish what circumstances are non-negotiable for you – for example, if you find sex on a weekday morning too stressful as you know it makes you late for work.
Everything else, such as the laundry or the long list of unanswered emails you need to reply to, you must let go of and say yes to making love instead.
MAKE A DATE FOR SEX
Many people idealise the notion of sex as “natural” and “spontaneous” and want it to simply “just happen”. This is, in part, because many of us wistfully remember the supposed spontaneity of our sexual relationship in the early years of marriage or courtship.
However, that sex wasn’t truly spontaneous, either. Typically, one or both parties had been thinking about it, rehearsing how to make it just right.
Most supposed spontaneity in adult life comes from good planning. Picnics, parties, holidays and even cooking dinner all require forward thinking, as does the act of making love.
As we get older and have more responsibilities, planning time for intimacy becomes essential if we are determined not to allow that side of our relationships to dwindle.
In adult life, making sex dates is mandatory, according to Klein, especially if you have children.
Making such a date does not mean you actually have to have sex, but it means you have set aside time to see if you are both in the mood. You might decide to cuddle on the sofa or make dinner together instead, but at least you have made sex a possibility.
HOW TO SAY NO
In the initial months or even years of many sexual relationships, no one party needs to initiate sex. You simply make love whenever circumstances allow.
After a few years, that stops, and it tends to fall into a pattern in which one partner tries to instigate sex, leaving it to the other to accept or decline the invitation, which is where problems often arise.
Each person in a couple has to find a way to say “No, thank you” without leaving their other half feeling and rejected.
Just as the question: “Do you want to go out tonight?” has many answers besides an outright “Yes” or “No” (for example, “Yes, if we can be home early”), so does the question “Would you like to have sex?”.
According to Klein, there are many more ways to discuss possibilities, for example by saying: “I’m a little tired, if we wait for tomorrow, I’ll have more energy,” “It’s already late, but could we make it quick?” or “I could, but that work deadline is so much on my mind, I wouldn’t be there 100 percent. Do you still want to?”
Honesty is essential, as is a more grown-up approach. Remember, if your partner does say no, he or she is not rejecting you, they are merely declining sex with you at that moment.
START TALKING DIRTY OVER THE WASHING-UP
Some couples believe that any conversation and communication surrounding sex takes the “romance” out of it, and that somehow staying silent makes sex more “spontaneous”.
But we would never cook from a recipe without using the correct terms, for example, “baking”. A common vocabulary is essential whenever two people want to pursue a joint project, from baking a cake to sharing sex.
Although it may be hard for some of us at first, we need to use words for body parts, erotic activities and our subjective experience of them. A sexual vocabulary is essential for enjoying sex and for guiding our partner. “It”, “y’know” and other oblique references to the act are just not going to cut the communication mustard.
And don’t just keep pillow talk for bed, Klein argues. Sometimes the best time and place to communicate about certain aspects of sex is outside the bedroom – in the kitchen, for example. While doing the washing-up together, why not ask your partner if he or she liked or might like a certain thing. Or, like Amazon, try broaching alternatives: “Since you enjoyed X (sexual activity), I wonder if you’d like Y (a similar sexual activity)?”
SKIP THAT SECOND GLASS OF WINE
It’s not only young people for whom alcohol and sex can make a bad combination. Many adults also drink far more than the recommended daily amount and, quite aside from a myriad other health issues, this can have a serious impact on sexuality and sexual satisfaction.
As Shakespeare put it in Macbeth: “Alcohol provokes the desire, but takes away the performance.” He did not add, “particularly with advancing age”, but we can. Many of us desire alcohol’s disinhibiting effect, but of course we don’t want to pay for it with diminished function.
So, where lies the ideal balance of a little disinhibition, without too much loss of function? When Klein asked patients, colleagues and students to estimate, they often guessed three, four or even five drinks.
The scientific answer is that for most of us, just two-thirds of a glass of wine is the tipping point. More alcohol spoils the experience by removing more in function than it adds in relaxation and playfulness.
PUT SOCKS ON HIS COLD FEET
Just as we are culturally conditioned to think of certain sexual practices as better or more important than others, so also the prescribed notions of what is “sexy” often do not fit with our true feelings or experiences.
We all need to create our own images of what sexy means to us – and it definitely doesn’t have to involve six-packs, candlelight or lingerie.
Running your partner a bath, reading aloud to him, bringing him socks if his feet are cold, or remembering exactly how he likes his hair stroked could all be sexy for both of you, says Klein. Clinging to narrow definitions of “sexy” as well as what makes “good sex” and a “good lover” is a mistake, and a real obstacle to satisfaction.
REMEMBER, THE BEST IS YET TO COME!
It’s little wonder we worry that sexuality and ageing do not mix, bombarded, as we have been, by the myth of the “sexual peak”.
More than half a century ago, Alfred Kinsey’s research concluded that men reach their sexual peak at about 18, while women peak at 35. If you live to be 80, that’s a depressingly long downhill slope, sexually speaking.
But Kinsey’s findings only allowed for a narrow definition of this “peak”, counting only people’s physiological responsiveness.
Klein uses the analogy of professional sports stars, virtually all of whom begin playing by 14, when their bodies are young and fit, but they haven’t learnt much about the game or competition. By 44, most professionals are no longer playing competitively – but that is not to say they no longer enjoy the game, or that they don’t play it well.
For those of us no longer interested in sex unless we have the stamina and strength of our youth, then our sexual “peak” is indeed sadly behind us. But if we can value experience and skill over youth and function, our sexual peak is hopefully still to come. – Daily Mail