I have been approached by a number of women of late, mostly my age-mates (I’m a tail-end boomer, and front-end Gen Xer) wanting to understand what’s happening to them sexually. Some of us seem to be confused. We feel vibrant, energetic, and even young. And yet we are also struggling with a waning libido. Some of us feel that letting go of that part of ourselves is what will define us as “old”. We want to have sex not because we necessarily want it but because we think we should.
And please, let’s agree that there is enough variability in the world to know that not everyone feels this way, and not everyone feels that way … enough of us feel this way though to merit a conversation about it.
Developmentally this is an adulthood passage we need to work through. There seems to be a mismatch between how alive and “current” one feels and our willingness to accept where we might be at sexually. Most of us were not expecting to not feel sexual – not yet.
Biologically speaking, we don’t need to have sex. We are not propagating the species and so the biological reason for wanting to have sex doesn’t exist any more. As we age, there are natural declines in the sex hormones we produce, for both sexes, and those declines can have a real impact on drive. This can create some challenging differences in appetites between partners and often becomes a hurdle for them. It’s not always the case that a couple that had a happy sex life in their 30s and 40s and 50s, age sexually at the same rate. We need to respect that in each other.
Socially speaking … well that’s another story. Virility, attractiveness, feeling wanted, appreciated, pursued, youthful, sexy, special .. all this is wrapped up in sex. And all this adds to the depth of our relationship. We are also all fighting the unreality that is media/sociocultural expectations of how we should be at a certain age.
It’s interesting to note the changing world of marketing. Advertising shows boomers aging in a much different way than their parents’ generation. We now see sexy, Chardonnay drinking, jean-clad people dancing together, barefoot on a dock at a lake… ring a bell? Our parents were pictured as people wearing tartan golf clothes… in a cart!!! I don’t recall ads when I was young showing older folk being sexual. Seems that part of your life was allowed to peter out quietly, respectfully, with no pressure.
Today, there’s a billion dollar industry at work to keep people feeling young and sexual. Men are pressured to use medication to enhance performance. Women are encouraged to appear “younger” – all in a bid to appear more sexual, for sex’s sake. There’s an expectation that we should want to have sex.
Laurie Betito wrote a book about sex at mid life: The Sex Bible For People Over 50: The Complete Guide to Sexual Love for Mature Couples. One of the things I took away from it was that you have to work at it. You have to bring intention to it. You have to invest yourself in your sexual relationship for it to be something. Gone are the days of pheromones getting you going and doing all the work of arousal! You need to step up and invest the time (yes the time!) because arousal does not happen in a vacuum.
And then there’s the conversation about acceptance. Can you accept that your libido has waned? Can you define your relationship as a close and loving one without sex? It’s possible you know. Have you discovered other ways of feeling close, wanted, connected? Because that HAS to happen. So many times in couple conversations I hear that sex is how love is expressed; some only understand themselves as loved when they connect sexually. That may be problematic for those of us who have a naturally occurring decline in libido. We need to redefine how we perceive ourselves being “loved”. And not having sex does NOT mean not having contact. Can we get that straight? If I don’t have it in me to want you sexually, that shouldn’t have to interfere with my ability to hug you, caress you, kiss you hello and good bye and good morning, to let you know I love you.
Ah sex… can we talk about it already? There really is so much more to say!