Sex After 50 (Part 2): Stop Standing in Your Own Way

Sex After 50

In a previous Sex After 50 blog post, we examined a particularly damaging attitude that too many older couples hold regarding their sexuality—an attitude that dictates what is considered appropriate/inappropriate for a particular age group. When applied to older couples, the attitude of “age-appropriate” behavior places significant constraints on a couple, constraints that impact not only their behavior but also their desires and emotional life.

Just imagine for a second what it must be like to be told that what you are experiencing and what feels totally natural to you is somehow wrong, unsuited for someone your age. Yet what others and society suggest shouldn’t be occurring is alive within you, radiating through you with a force that cannot be denied.

This dynamic occurs for many older adults regarding their sexuality—I’ve worked with many older individuals and couples who have strong sexual desires but feel ashamed that they cannot turn off their libido.

Sex after 50: The Dangers of Believing You Shouldn’t Feel Sexual at Your Age

When faced with the dilemma of feeling highly sexual while also believing you shouldn’t be sexual at your age, the following reactions may occur:

  • You may begin to live a life of secrecy, with the hope of finding a community that acknowledges and supports your sexuality;
  • In order to cope with this conflict, you may ignore or push your desires out of conscious awareness (you may find yourself hiding your desires from others and then, ultimately, suppressing them within yourself);
  • You may feel guilt or shame for being a sexual being—you start to believe you are somehow flawed because these sexual desires still exist within you;
  • You may start to agree with the perspective that your sexual desires and yearnings are somehow “age-inappropriate” and as a result, self-directed anger may follow (you psychologically turn against yourself for “being this way.”).

All of the above come at a significant psychological and emotional cost: To suppress or deny Eros is to become estranged from a vital part of yourself, a part that, if dampened or denied, can lead you to feel chronically frustrated or angry, listless/lifeless, empty, or depressed.

The fact is many older couples (couples in their 60s, 70s and 80s) have a rich and exciting sex life despite whether a significant percentage of people view older people as sexual beings or not.

Sex After 50: Burning Sexual Desire after All These Years

By the time Lynn came to see me she had been struggling with what she labeled “depression” for several years. At age 70, a metaphoric gray blanket now enshrouded most of her life and she described how what once felt meaningful and brought color into her world seemed forever lost. She had tried several medications without success. Over the next year Lynn would share the ups and downs of her life with me, dreams realized and abandoned, relationship triumphs and failures, the mundane as well as the extraordinary. As we examined the themes of her life over the next year or so, what emerged was a tendency to abandon her passions and interests as she approached her 70th birthday.

About six months into our work, Lynn shared what she considered a particularly embarrassing experience that captured her core struggle: “About two years ago my son and daughter-in-law made a comment that really bothered me. They suggested that I spend less time with my ‘gentleman friend’ and ‘painting hobby’ and more time with the grandkids ‘like other grandparents do,’ the implication being that it was time to act more responsibly.” (Lynn loved painting and was also spending a significant portion of her free time with her new boyfriend.)

This set into motion increasing levels of guilt whenever Lynn engaged in her passions. She felt passionately connected to her boyfriend Stan (her husband had died about four years earlier) and had thought that her sexual life was over until she and Stan started dating. As she described, “We’re like teenagers who can’t keep their hands off each other. I didn’t know this passion still existed in me. It’s wonderful, I feel so alive!” But then she would hear her son’s and daughter-in-law’s voices suggesting that she should behave differently, more like a grandparent rather than someone chasing her passions at her age. Lynn’s guilt started to intrude into her relationship and interfere with her sexual fulfillment.

Lynn’s story is one of conflict about aging and the desire to follow your interests and passions. The more she felt wrong about her time with Stan and the sexual desire she felt toward him, and the more she felt bad about the time required for her creative pursuits, the more depressed she became. Medication couldn’t change this dilemma, only Lynn could. As long as she was guided by what was considered age-appropriate behavior for a woman turning 70, she would rob herself of the vitality that she possessed.

Better Sex after 50 Reflective Moment

Take a few moments to think about your marriage or relationship with a particular focus on how your behavior might match or conflict with your own self-perceptions. (And, as always, you may learn more about yourself if you take the time to write your responses, though of course that’s not required.)

  • In what specific ways do you hold yourself back sexually with your spouse/partner? Do you wish you could free yourself from these self-imposed restraints? What is one small way you could do this…today? How do you think your partner would react? How might you react?
  • Is it possible that your restrictions are being fed because you believe you should behave in “age-appropriate” ways? (Really think about this question, reflect on it with quiet attention, because you may not be fully conscious of holding this belief.)
  • If you abandoned the idea of age-appropriate behavior, how would your relationship and sex life be different? And how do you feel about the idea of abandoning a restrictive mindset? Be as specific as possible.

Remember, mindsets aren’t automatic or unbidden or random…they are created. So if you don’t like the mindset you’ve created (with the influence of society’s prevailing mindset), it is within your power to create another.

(Featured [top] image  “Smiling Couple” by Ambro/