En español | The years after you turn 50 are a time of great change, but some of the greatest changes — ones that people don’t talk about enough — relate to sex. As our bodies and minds mature and change, our relationship to sex changes, as well. This was certainly the case for me. When I was a younger woman, my sexual experiences were primarily physical expressions of passion, lust or love.
Though aging brought many physical changes, I was surprised to realize that those changes had little effect on my ability to enjoy sex as I got older. The reason for that is, now that I'm in my 60s, my view of sex has evolved from merely a physical expression into something more personal, intimate and even spiritual. The physicality of sex, while still important, takes a back seat to how it feels to make a connection with my partner and to be fully present in moments of intimacy.
Because of this shift, I have been able to enjoy sex more as I age, and you can, too.
All it takes is a willingness to let go of judgments and try new things to accommodate the natural physical and emotional changes of aging. It may take trial and error and the courage to venture outside of your comfort zone to reinvigorate your sex life as an older person, but this process of exploration can be powerful (and very sexy) if you approach it with patience and vulnerability.
Go with the flow
Physical changes that accompany aging can affect the amount and kind of sex you enjoy, but you can work around many of these changes by trying new methods. According to the North American Menopause Society, up to 45 percent of postmenopausal women find sex painful due, in part, to increased vaginal dryness and thinning vaginal tissue caused by falling estrogen levels.
One of the best ways to combat this extremely common natural side effect of aging is with a good-quality lubricant. Using lube is a simple and inexpensive way to make sex feel comfortable again for an older woman experiencing discomfort because of vaginal dryness. Make lube a regular part of your sex life, and when you’re with a partner, find ways to make applying it playful and sexy so that it adds to the experience.
You should also talk with your doctor or medical specialist about estrogen creams and hormone replacement therapy; both options have been shown to help vagina dryness, and they may even increase a woman’s physical and mental desire for sex.
Finally, small dietary changes may make a big difference in the bedroom for older couples. Research by the Linus Pauling Institute of Oregon State University indicates that eating plant-based foods that contain phytoestrogens may help women raise their estrogen levels. The following are examples of such foods:
- Seeds: flaxseeds and sesame seeds
- Fruit: apricots, oranges, strawberries and peaches
- Vegetables: yams, carrots, alfalfa sprouts, kale and celery
- Soy products: tofu, miso soup and soy yogurt
- Dark rye bread
- Legumes: lentils, peas and pinto beans
- Olives and olive oil
Dealing with ED
Older men also experience their share of sexual challenges, the most common of which is erectile dysfunction. ED makes it difficult for a man to achieve or sustain an erection for sexual intercourse, which can be embarrassing, an ego killer and a source of serious emotional stress — all of which tend to exacerbate the symptoms of ED, resulting in a frustrating cycle.
Fortunately for men with ED (and their partners), there are numerous effective medical treatments and therapies that can help prevent this condition from becoming long term. But for those seeking a more natural remedy, the Mayo Clinic suggests lifestyle changes that may help, such as losing weight, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol intake, increasing exercise and lowering daily stress.
What's more, research from the University of Texas at Austin suggests that men can raise their testosterone levels by eating foods high in monounsaturated fat and zinc, including:
- Oils: olive, canola and peanut (monounsaturated fat)
- Avocados (monounsaturated fat and magnesium)
- Olives (monounsaturated fat)
- Nuts: almonds and cashews (monounsaturated fat, zinc and magnesium)
- Oysters (zinc)
- Wheat germ (zinc)
- Shellfish: lobster and crab (zinc)
- Chickpeas (zinc)
- Oatmeal (zinc)
- Kidney beans (zinc)
- Raisins (magnesium)
- Dark green leafy vegetables (magnesium)
- Bananas (magnesium)
- Low-fat yogurt (magnesium)
The quickie is out; the slow burn is in
For both men and women, another excellent strategy for making sex more enjoyable is to experiment with different kinds of prolonged physical touch, especially if you are working to rekindle sexual desire after a long dry spell. Joan Price, an advocate for ageless sexuality and the author of The Ultimate Guide to Sex After Fifty: How to Maintain — or Regain — a Spicy, Satisfying Sex Life, offers this guidance:
“As we age, our sexual needs and preferences may change. Where we like being touched, how we like being touched, even who we want to touch us may change. Let the changes be an opportunity to explore. Make a date with yourself or your partner to rediscover how your body responds. In a private, relaxed setting, spend a long, languid, sensual time touching without any goal except to experience sensation and pleasure. Don’t head straight to the genitals — explore your whole body. You may discover some new erogenous zones! Try different kinds of touch — slow, fast, light, firm, stroking, circling. If it feels natural, let yourself experience orgasm, but don’t put any pressure on yourself. Just enjoy learning what feels really good.”
Embrace change in sexual desire
Beyond these simple and highly effective practical strategies for making sex more physically enjoyable, I want to end where we started, talking about the most powerful thing you can do to embrace change within your relationship to sex — that is, altering your mind-set. When you free yourself from expectations based on other people or your past experiences, you empower your own happiness. This process will look different for every person and every couple, and the things you try can range from spending more time cuddling to experimenting with new positions and techniques in the bedroom. Be open and honest with yourself and your partner about what feels good and how your sexual interests and feelings may have changed over the years.
The more you practice acceptance and take pressure off yourself and your partner to perform or respond in a certain way during sex, the deeper and more satisfying your sexual experiences will become, no matter your age.