America’s lovers are graying, and the publishing industry knows it. Naturally, since publishers rarely pass up a chance to win an audience, there is a current boomlet of sex books for midlifers, semi-seniors and seniors. With all the manuals already out there, you have to wonder how it is they still don’t know what to do.
The truth is, though, that sex changes as our bodies age–and not all the changes are welcome. Many women going through menopause encounter physical problems such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness, while a number of men as they age have more trouble reaching and holding an erection. Often too, alas, the monogamy that lies at the heart of many long-term relationships begins to be equated with monotony.
Our sexual drive stays with us our whole lives, the experts all stress, and with proper knowledge, we can have long, happy sex lives. Dr. Alan Altman, the co-author of Making Love the Way We Used To…Or Better: Secrets to Satisfying Midlife Sexuality (Contemporary) writes, “While I can’t say that you’ll ever feel the ultimate heart-stopping passion you felt the first month you fell in love with your partner, I do know this: there are many of us who settle for predictability when we could have more excitement; friendship when we could have intimacy; medical problems that kill our sex life when we can correct them; and the status quo when we could have a relationship that is constantly evolving and renewing itself.”
Other authors in this genre also hold out hope for lifelong love and lust. In her introduction to the often gaspingly explicit Still Doing It: Women & Men over 60 Write About Their Sexuality, edited by Joani Blank (Down There Press), Eleanor (Ranger) Hamilton writes, “When I was a student, training to become a marriage counselor, I asked a lovely old lady in her late sixties, ‘When does sexual desire stop?’ Her immediate response was, ‘I’ll let you know.’ Her answer confirmed what I have known now for 40 years–namely, that we are sexual beings from birth until death.”
With that in mind, here’s a sampling of the sex tips for mature lovers offered by the current crop of authors:
Taking a Position
Getting bored in the bedroom? Maybe it’s time to consult the Kama Sutra and go back to the drawing board for a new position or two. As Married Lust: 10 Secrets of Long-Lasting Desire by Pamela Lister and Redbook magazine put it, with Martha Stewart swagger, “After all, would you spend hours preparing fabulously creative hors d’oeuvres for a dinner guest, only to go dump the same old tuna casserole on him? Having a range of sexual positions is not only a perfect antidote to the encroaching dullness of routine, but it allows you to decide what style of lovemaking you’re in the mood for–tender, raunchy, kinky, spiritual, whatever–and to pick the position that best expresses how you feel.” In Redbook’s survey of 10,000 married men and women, women declared that the missionary position was their favorite, while men rated it last. Men’s favorite position? Woman on top.
After 40, men’s erections are less automatic. According to Dr. Saul Rosenthal, the author of the newly revised Sex over 40 (Tarcher/Putnam), “One thing you can count on is that when you are over 40 you won’t be getting spontaneous erections in the same rapid and easy way you did when you were in your adolescence or early 20s…Just thinking about sex or seeing a sexual partner won’t be enough. You will require more and more direct physical stimulation.” But that’s not bad, says Dr. Altman, and it doesn’t mean that sex stops. “It just means that your partner is going to have to help you,” he says. “And here, an understanding, loving partner is truly important.”
Inside the Medicine Chest
If something has put a hex on your sex drive, the culprit may be a medicine that you’re taking. Various blood-pressure medications, antidepressants, antihistamines, heart drugs and some antibiotics have been implicated in interfering with sex drive or performance. If there’s a problem, check with your physician to see if it makes medical sense to adjust the dosage of your prescription.
Staying in the Game
Women who cannot or choose not to take estrogen risk vaginal problems if they are not having sexual relations on a regular basis. To be absolutely clinical about it, “lack of use promotes vaginal atrophy, while frequent intercourse helps maintain elasticity,” says Dr. Altman. He is aware that some women could find this message annoying, especially if they don’t have a regular partner. Undaunted, Dr. Altman advises that women, well, improvise. “For patients who don’t have a willing or able partner, I suggest they take the advice from the song made famous by Carly Simon: Nobody Does It Better.” Although Simon was almost certainly not singing about self-stimulation, he says, “doctors and sex therapists definitely recommend it as a remedy because it works to keep the vaginal walls healthy, elastic and responsive.”
Don’t Be a Pill
In this Viagra-driven era, some experts say, it is easy to lose sight of the goal of a sexual relationship–at any age. The real priority should be sharing and intimacy. “Yes, we want our partner to have an erection!” says Barbara Keesling, author of All Night Long: How to Make Love to a Man over 50 (HarperCollins). “For his enjoyment, and for ours. But what we want more than anything is to have a partner we can make love to. It is our heart and soul that we want to have penetrated.” Moreover, Keesling cautions that taking a pill doesn’t necessarily make a man more sensual, more caring or more loving. “To the contrary, it can actually decrease his motivation to become a better partner, particularly if he’s a man who equates having an erection with being a satisfying lover.”
Location, Location, Location
Variety is the spice of life, say the new senior sexperts. What about making love somewhere other than in your bedroom? Advises Married Lust’s Lister: “If you really want to enjoy the rush of novelty, you’re going to have to take your show on the road, the first stop being any room in the rest of the house, from the kitchen to the basement to the bathroom to the attic…With one simple change of place, even if it’s the bathroom you’re remodeling in your own home, all the qualities you miss from your early days together–the spontaneity, the fun, the sense of derring-do–are brought back.” For the particularly adventurous (now that it’s warmer throughout most of the country), try doing it outside. But please, remember the neighbors.
Cruising the Slow Lane
“You should not be threatened by the fact that he is slowing down,” Keesling reassures women. “You should be welcoming the changes and celebrating the shift. He needs to learn to crawl through intimate moments and feel everything–every nuance, every gesture, every impulse, every twinge. This is the only way for him to ‘come alive’ and stay that way for decades.” Keesling recommends kisses, caresses and lovemaking that is “more deliberate and slow.”
Dally By Daylight
Saving your love till night may not be optimal, suggests Dr. Rosenthal in Sex over 40. “Lovemaking in the morning gives you the opportunity to make love when your body is rested and your mind is fresh and clear,” he says. “It can make sex a pleasure instead of a chore.” Plan a gourmet feast for two. A small bouquet of flowers will add a loving touch. After breakfast, it’s back to bed. Or wherever.
By: Andrea Sachs