Our bodies are diverse in shape, size, color, and ability, among other things. Every body is unique. One thing, however, binds us all together. We all age, and as we age, our bodies change.
One of the things that is likely to change over the lifespan is sexual function. Over a lifespan, hormone levels shift, as well as muscle tone and flexibility, and vascular function. Bodies experience illnesses, pregnancies, and health/lifestyle shifts for the better and worse. All these things have an effect on how the body responds to arousal and how pleasure is experienced.
Many people have the best sex of their lives later in life. However, if body changes in midlife make it more difficult to have familiar and well-practiced kinds of sex, the changes can be painful and distressing particularly when negative meanings are made of the changes.
Lifestyle choices, like eating a healthy diet, reducing and managing stress, and incorporating regular exercise into your routine, can make a big difference, so consult with your doctor. However, one of the most productive changes is to think about change differently, and respond more skillfully.
A sexual repertoire for a lifetime must include multiple activities that do not depend on any particular body part, function, or experience. If we define sex as “penis-in-vagina penetration”, or “orgasm,” or any other particular experience, I can guarantee at some point things won’t go as planned. However if we define sex as “activities that are pleasurable,” or “anything sexy,” or “connection plus pleasure,” the likelihood of creating a satisfying sexual encounter skyrockets.
I’m a strong advocate for making this shift in thinking early. When a young couple comes to me to work with a particular sexual challenge, they often feel quite broken, because everything is “supposed to be easy” sexually. But I always feel very optimistic about their long-term sexual connection. This is because we can learn this shift of perspective early in life, later in life, or never. The earlier we get good at this, the more good sex we have. Simple as that.
What are we learning in order to support a lifetime of good sex?
- Improvisation. There is no script, and the more you follow a script, the more things go “wrong”. The more improvisation, the more fun you discover.
- Encourage your sexy, creative brain. That’s the part of you that comes up with ideas, tries them out, shares curiosity with a partner, and makes sex playful.
- Control your naughty brain. I’m referring to your meaning-making brain. The part of your brain that says: “I’m not sexy because I…..”. “This wouldn’t be going like this if my partner were still into me”. Any thought that makes you feel bad about yourself or your partner during a sexual interaction is not helpful if pleasure OR connection are your goals.
- Recognize that things not going as planned is just part of the landscape. Everyone experiences it and HOW you respond is the key to good sex.
Here’s an example: If your partner loses his erection, will it be more fun and productive to
a) begin to make meaning about not being attractive, or even comfort your partner with “nobody’s perfect” messages, or
b) tell him how hot he is, that you love his erection but don’t need it, and initiate an activity that you both enjoy and that doesn’t require an erection?