Sex After 50: Is Better Sex Possible?

Sex After 50

“Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.” ~ Samuel Ullman

For sexual desire and fulfillment to exist, there must be a mindset that encourages and nurtures one’s sexuality. And this is particularly the case as we age and our expectations (and society’s expectations) about what is considered “age-appropriate” behavior become more pronounced.

As one client in her 70s once said, “Sex isn’t just for the young. Me and my husband have a great sex life even though our bodies aren’t what they used to be.” With medications and lubrications now available for those whose bodies need a little help keeping pace with their desire to be sexually active, rewarding sex for those in their 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond can be a reality.

But sometimes what prevents older couples from having a rich and fulfilling sex life has more to do with their mindset than their anatomy.

Better Sex after 50: Are Negative Attitudes Standing in the Way?

There is a damaging idea that many of us have internalized that can easily stand in the way of an exciting sex life (including meaningful sexuality intimacy). It’s the concept of “age-appropriate behavior” – a concept originally used to track the maturity and developmental progression of children. However, it’s become more commonplace to view all developmental phases of life through the lens of appropriateness/inappropriateness, a lens that is biased when applied to older adults and sexuality. When you think of young lovers, it’s easy to imagine excessive libidinous energy, but the idea of a couple in their 60s desiring sex or engaging in passionate love-making can seem unusual when looked at through society’s skewed perception.

At a workshop on sexual intimacy, I asked the participants (who were mainly in their 20s, 30s and 40s) how they felt about a couple in their 70s or 80s having passionate sex. One man jokingly murmured, “Sounds like the wife ended up with a dirty old man,” and a woman in her 20s said, “Oh, how sweet. That’s nice.”

While there were other reactions to my question, these two prevailing responses are informative and, I believe, held by many people. Let’s examine them a little more closely:

The “dirty old man” comment obviously implies that it’s unnatural to have sexual desires after a certain age and that if you do, you are somehow perverted—in short, it’s inappropriate behavior and should be replaced with something more age-appropriate, like reading, knitting, or some other benign (benign equals non-sexual in this case) activity that’s being offered at the nearest senior center.

The second “how sweet” comment is, I believe, just as problematic. The spirit of the comment is one that is typically applied to children, to innocence. It views the sex lives of older people through a sanitizing filter, one that strips away the mystique and excitement of sexual passion and highly-charged eroticism.

Sex after 50: Why Your Mindset is Key

For many couples 50 and older, viewing and organizing their lives through the mindset of “age-appropriate” behavior both in and out of the bedroom is potentially suffocating; such a mindset promotes a self-consciousness that threatens to extinguish one’s creative spirit and vitality (including Eros). In these instances, our beliefs about what should be (about what is “appropriate”) divorces us from what is, the existence and stirring of a deeper truth that is denied expression.

In an upcoming blog post on the topic of sex after 50, we’ll explore one woman’s struggle as she felt the need to repress her sexual desires while approaching age 70, a struggle intensified by family members who believed she should direct her energy in age-appropriate ways.

(To read the followup blog post on this important topic, click Sex After 50: Part 2.)

Dr. Rich Nicastro

(Featured image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)