My husband and I met in the sweltering summer of 1992 and started rocking and rolling immediately. But from the moment we got married a year later, we were 1) thinking about getting pregnant, 2) in a state of pregnancy, 3) recovering from pregnancy, or 4) enjoying (and coping with) the results of pregnancy: babies, toddlers, and now, two teenagers. It wasn't exactly conducive to swinging from chandeliers.
During those early years, sex was focused more on a result (children), but that's no longer the case. Like most couples over 50, we are free to have sex pretty much whenever we want. But do we?
I tried to find some statistics about how many times per week married Americans over 50 made love (with each other), but there were so many different studies saying so many different things, it was hard to suss out the truth. One stated that married couples over 50 had sex once or twice a week, while another claimed it was closer to once or twice a month.
Confused, and in need of more information, I met with Dr. Margaret Nachtigall, a reproductive endocrinologist in New York City, and daughter of Dr. Lila Nachtigall, one of this country's leading experts on menopause, who shared some statistics from a study done by The National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior:
A study of married couples found age and marital satisfaction to be the two variables most associated with amount of sex. As couples age, they engage in sex less frequently, with half of couples age 65-75 still engaging in sex, but with less than one fourth of couples over 75 still sexually active. Across all ages couples who reported higher levels of marital satisfaction also reported higher frequencies of sex.
This study left me feeling that the older we got, the less we got it. Not good.
I brought this topic up with some girlfriends one night over a bottle of wine, hoping to get insights into their concerns, and (yes, I admit it) how often they had sex (with their partners).
We all had the same question: I love my husband and he loves me, so why aren't we having more hot sex together, like we used to? We want to have sex, but sometimes we just aren't into it. How do we get in the mood? We all hated thinking that things were slowing down, and that they might slow down even more. For sure, menopause can sometimes make sex uncomfortable for some women and our libido can drop off. But, just because a woman is post-menopausal, does she automatically lose interest? Forever? Was that my future? Was I supposed to lock this door and throw away the key?
I was getting worried. Whenever I get worried, I do research. The more research I did, the more worried I got . . . so the more research I did. Finally, someone suggested I meet with Esther Perel, author of "Mating in Captivity", in which she explores many of the questions my friends and I were confronting, specifically why couples who have been together for a very long time often can't sustain a rich, enjoyable sexual life . . . together. Esther was eager to find out because in her view . . . sex after fifty may be the best sex we'll ever have.
First, Esther said, we had to address some long-held views about sex after 50 that may not be true.
--Women over 50 are sexually dysfunctional due to menopause. According to Esther's research, the majority of women over 50 are sexually healthy. Sexual problems that are menopause-related can be addressed with simple solutions like lubricants or estrogen.
--Men think women over 50 are sexually undesirable. Esther has rarely encountered a man who says his low sex drive is related to how his wife looks, or her age. But he will be turned off if she has stopped being interested in sex. Men want women who want sex.
--If you're not having spontaneous sex, it must mean your sex life is over. When, Esther asked, was sex ever spontaneous? When you were first together, you had sex on your mind for hours, maybe even days, leading up to the experience. In many cases, you set the date, thought about it, planned the evening, even what to wear. It may have seemed spontaneous . . . but it wasn't. Good sex is planned sex.
--If a couple is having less sex, it's her fault. News flash: if a woman over 50 is having less sex, chances are it's him, not her. With men, his low sex drive is often related to health problems or medications he may be on, many of which are known to create some sexual functioning challenges. Men aren't used to needing stimulation, and it can be troubling. Sometimes he'll just avoid it, causing the woman to think he's no longer attracted to her, which results in a sexual Catch-22.
--If you want to have a better sex life, you need to get closer. On the contrary, Esther says, excess information and over-sharing can put the kibosh on desire, while a little mystery can fuel sexual attraction.
Creating an erotic space between you and your partner is essential for good sex. I share lots of tips on how to do that in The Best of Everything After 50 ( www.bestofeverythingafter50.com.)
[ Why Women Lose Their Sex Drives? ]
Then, we explored the three main tools that women can use to get into the mood, when we may be thinking about watching reruns of Seinfeld, instead of having sex:
--Arousal - Watch a movie or read a book, have a fantasy, put on some sexy lingerie. Many things can arouse us. Arousal can lead to desire, and desire leads to sex. Figure out what gets you going and use it when you need it.
--Desire - Desire is wanting to be turned on. With this entry point you want to get aroused, and you want to actively engage in getting turned on with your partner.
--Willingness - This is the most important entry point for women over 50. It's the willingness to be engaged in desire. If you've been ignoring, neglecting or denying your sexual self for a while, then you must consciously decide that you want sex in order to even let yourself feel desire. We talk ourselves into doing things all the time - going out to an event, cooking dinner - but people don't think about talking themselves into having sex, and they confuse it with "pity sex." This made complete and total sense to me . . . and, even better, it works!
What I learned: After 50, we're at a sexual crossroads, and need to make a choice: We could go through menopause, and realize that our experience of sex is changing and decide that we are done with it, and shut down that part of ourselves, lock the door and throw away the key. Or, (the much more fun choice) we could embrace this new life with a sense of freedom and fun - no more periods, no more worries about getting pregnant, no more doing it because there has to be a result, . . . and you may very well find yourself having the best sex . . . ever.
One little bit of advice: stop looking for studies about how often other people have sex. No one really knows what goes on behind closed doors (no matter what they say to the survey interviewer), and . . . who cares?
About the Author: Barbara Hannah Grufferman is an author and blogger.If you would like more information about The Best of Everything After 50: The Experts' Guide to Style, Sex, Health, Money and More, please visit my website: www.bestofeverythingafter50.com. Interested in having a "The Best of Everything After 50 Book Club"? Email me at Barbara@bestofeverythingafter50.com.
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