Keeping your sex life on track as you age

Sex therapist and counsellor Lucy Patarcic joins YourLifeChoices’ stable of columnists. In her debut column, she addresses the sex myths she says are mostly commonly associated with ageing.

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Sex has been around since the beginning of time and is a very important part of our lives – but it is a topic that is too often taboo and misunderstood. There are many misconceptions surrounding sex and ageing. Here are my top five.

Myth No. 1: Sexual intimacy/intercourse has nothing to do with relationship dynamics
Busted! Conflicts in relationships can cause a strain on desire, arousal and wanting to be sexual. Likewise, strong emotions such as anger or a breach of trust can lead to one party withholding sex. 

It is important to be able to communicate effectively and openly discuss your needs, feelings and concerns with your partner.

Myth No. 2: “We have been together for x amount of years so my partner should know what I want”
Busted! This is common and completely untrue. People in the early stages of a new relationship are often trying to impress their partner or be on their best behaviour. This can then continue for the duration of the relationship. Sadly, many people do not communicate their sexual needs early on and as time goes by, this can become problematic as their sexual needs are not being met.

In my experience, this can be due to a fear of judgement, self-consciousness, not wanting to appear inexperienced (or too experienced), not wanting to make their partner feel a particular way, not having the words to express their needs or feeling shy – just to name a few. Our upbringing and strong messages around sex and religious beliefs can also play a part.

Whether you are in a new relationship or have been in a relationship for decades, it isn’t too late to start talking. Have a think about what you might be wanting or needing, and have a gentle casual chat. Ensure this chat takes place away from the bedroom, in a neutral space and not just after being intimate. It can really dampen things.

Myth No. 3: I’m over 50, I don’t need to worry about sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
Busted! STIs are on the rise, and older people still need to take precautions with new sexual partners. Often people do not consider the use of condoms as they are not worried about pregnancy in later life. It is advisable that both partners complete tests before starting a new sexual relationship.

Myth No. 4: Sex toys are only for young people
Busted! Sex toys can be fun and useful for people of all ages. Toys can be helpful during partnered sex and can take the pressure off men ‘performing’. A little help from a rubber or silicone friend can allow them to just be present, enjoy the intimacy and experience the moment rather than overthink it.

For women, self-pleasuring with a dildo or vibrator can help by increasing blood flow to the genitals and keeping lady parts more responsive and supple. Men can enjoy a variety of masturbation sleeves or even vibrating penis rings. There truly is something out there for everyone with tens of thousands of products available.

Sex toys can be really helpful for arthritic hands and useful for stimulating and manipulating areas that might otherwise be hard to reach.

Sex toys are not just for partnered folks, singles are able to enjoy a regular satisfying sex life too.

Remember, condoms should be used if sharing sex toys with a partner.

Myth No. 5: I am too old for sex
Busted! Rubbish! Nope! No, no, no!

Of course, changes take place as we age, but that doesn’t mean sex is completely off the table. Although some physical changes sexually (including flexibility and stamina) are unavoidable and part of life, we have access to medical interventions including Viagra and Cialis, which can help with erection issues. For women, there are good quality lubricants, hormone creams and rings that can help when our bodies stop producing these.

Sex is part of life. In a study published in The Australian Journal of General Practice (an academic journal for GPs) researchers contacted more than 2000 Australians aged over 60 and found 72 per cent were engaging in sexual activity.

How do you define sex? Whether you are engaging in intercourse, outercourse or swinging from the chandeliers with your walking frame, sex is as good as you make it. As we get older, we understand our bodies better, men may have better control of erections, women may feel more sexually confident and experience orgasms for the first time or even have multiple orgasms – especially being able to let go and enjoy sex without the worry of pregnancy after menopause.

It is important to remember that although there may be reduced lubrication, less intense orgasms, softer erections, it doesn’t mean you are no longer interested in sex. As we age, sex becomes more interpersonal. It may involve more touching, taking it slower and, in turn, developing a more rewarding and satisfying sex life that is more intimate and less focused on penis in vaginal intercourse/orgasm and more on extended foreplay, connection and closeness. At some point in our lives, sex becomes more about quality than quantity.

Has your sex life evolved as you’ve aged? Do you agree with Lucy’s myths?

Lucy Patarcic is a sex therapist, relationship counsellor, general counsellor and clinical hypnotherapist in private practice in Sydney. She uses an integrated approach to therapy and holds a Master of Health Science (Sexual Health) and Master of Science in Medicine (HIV, STIs and Sexual Health) in Public Health both from the University of Sydney.

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Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Written by Lucy Patarcic

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