I want to share a conversation about aging and sex I had with a friend and former lover. We were discussing intimacy and sensual touch in light of a "failed" attempt at making love. It failed if the definition of sex is intercourse. There was a moment of laughter when things didn't go quite as expected before we blissfully settled into each other's arms.
If we had been in our early 20s, it might have been a different story. I might not have known how to handle his flagging erection. And I certainly wouldn't have been bold enough to take matters into my own hands. His laugh would have reflected awkwardness and shame or embarrassment. At twenty I didn't know that sensuous touch provides a sort of pleasure that lasts longer, and provides deeper satisfaction, than a robust round of intercourse.
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Maturity has its benefits and a strong relationship, of any type, benefits from the ability to openly discuss sexuality. His inability in that moment was just a passing thing. It's part of getting old, of coping with the unexpected, the unpredictable, and being flexible. When things shift in our bodies or level of desire we need to be able to discuss them openly without fear of judgment. Because as a couple you need to find a way to move forward sexually even when stamina diminishes and arousal needs a little jumpstart.
I often write about arousal tools—sex toys, mental preparation, erotic stories, lubricants—but the most important factor in coping with changes in sexuality as we age is to have a strong connection with one's partner. Struggling in silence leaves your partner out of the equation, which calls into doubt how strong a partnership you really have. The shifting dynamic can lead to all sorts of tension. When things didn't turn out as expected for my friend and I, we talked.
The conversation, initiated by him, was a check-in of sorts. Did I understand why he laughed? Did I know how wonderful it felt to lie there with me? He asked if there was anything more he could have done for/to me. And we talked about touching as a vehicle for expressing desire, love, contentment and acceptance. It was a conversation about how we convey love and intimacy in sexual relationships.
What we didn't talk about was why his erection failed. I didn't analyze it or make up that he found me unattractive or was turned off. My senses told me otherwise. We didn't talk about Erectile Dysfunction or rush to look up common medications. Instead we discussed the beauty of spontaneity and the wide range of ways people can bring pleasure to each other.
The issue could just have easily been mine. As a post-menopausal woman I might have experienced vaginal dryness. Or I might have felt it took too long for me to become aroused. I could have felt uncomfortable about the changes in my aging body, measuring my looks by those of magazine models.
We are all going to experience changes that have a direct or indirect impact on our sex lives. There are things we can do to improve and maintain our physical and emotional health, but aging with all its challenges (and joys) is inevitable. One of the best ways to maintain a satisfactory intimate life is to strengthen your relationships now.
Walker Thornton is a writer, sex educator and public speaker, with a Masters in Educational Psychology and over 10 years experience in the field of sexual violence against women. She is a strong advocate for midlife women’s sexuality, encouraging women to ‘step into their desire’. Kinkly.com ranked her blog, WalkerThornton.com, #17 in their top 100 Sex Blogging Superheroes of 2013. Walker is the Sexual Health columnist for Midlife Boulevard and writes about sex and the older adult for Kinkly.com. You can connect with her on her website (www.walkerthornton.com ), Facebook (https://facebook.com/AWomansPage ) Twitter (http://twitter.com/WalkerThornton) and Google+ (https://plus.google.com/u/0/+WalkerThornton/posts ).