Let's Talk About Sex!
Magic at Midlife: Your Relationship Roadmap for Romance After 40
We recently had the privilege of presenting a workshop titled “Sex and Dating After 60” to a wonderful group of “elders” at a senior citizens’ center in Seattle. The people in the audience were attentive and lively. We talked together about how, when most of us were growing up, there was very little discussion of sex. Some parents had “the talk” with us, and other parents pretended sex did not exist. Even in those enlightened communities that offered some form of sex education, the messages were mostly “Don’t have sex” and “Don’t get pregnant.” No one talked to us about learning what felt good sexually, figuring out how to pleasure a partner, understanding our sexual orientation, or how our sexuality changes over the lifespan.
It’s probably no coincidence that the rate of sexually transmitted infections among seniors is alarming. No one is born knowing how to use a condom, and embarrassment and lack of knowledge can interfere with protection. Fortunately, it’s never too late to learn. No matter what your age, you can probably learn something new about sexual anatomy and functioning, once you stop blushing. The ability to speak frankly about sexual matters can be important to your health and your happiness.
In the workshop, we laughed about the fact that many catalogs specializing in products for the older generation—such as wheelchair cushions or medication organizers—also include at least a couple of pages touting vibrators and other sex toys. Older folks are often still quite interested in sex, and they appreciate the opportunity to learn about options for sexual pleasure as they deal with aging.
When an older person does find a sexual partner, it becomes critical that they communicate with each other. Can they talk about their sexual histories? Do they feel comfortable asking each other to be tested for sexually transmitted infections? Do they know that a person should be tested for HIV (the AIDS virus) every three months if they are at risk of exposure? Have they ever heard of a dental dam (a thin barrier that can be used to cover a woman’s genitals during oral sex, thus protecting her partner from possible sexually transmitted infections)? Do they feel comfortable saying what they like, what grosses them out, and what they are willing to try? Can they be playful while still being crystal clear about what they do and don’t want to do?
In a caring relationship, you should be able to say yes or no to any sexual act freely, without worrying that your partner will become angry or abusive or will reject you completely. This holds true for both men and women. Of course, it is helpful to talk about your preferences before you become romantically involved. While many older people are quite interested in sex, others find it unimportant or even distasteful. Being on the same page with regard to your general level of interest and your preferences makes it less likely that either of you will be disappointed or hurt because of differing expectations.