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Can you be “too old” to have sex? They don’t call it your golden years for nothing!

Written by Coralie McEachron, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist & Sex Therapist | Illustration by Branden Barker

And yet, despite 65% of Americans aged 65-80 still wanting sex, over half were not sexually active, with some of these folks still having desire without a guarantee of sexual fulfillment.

According to the experts, there is no expiration date on touch. Despite women experiencing a variety of changes with age, creating, redefining, exploring and playing with their relationship(s) with sex and intimacy, is necessary.

Lisa Blalock, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Certified Sex Therapist says, “I reframe to my clients that as we age, it does not have to change how we feel. Our desires, needs, and wants can remain the same. We are not our age or our body. We are our minds and how we choose to look at the aging process.”

What are some of the perks of getting older when it comes to romping in the bedroom? Lisa says, “With age comes a sense of contentment, having learned what we enjoy sexually and what we do not. We do not need to focus only on our partners, but on ourselves, as well.”

For many women, however, with age comes physiological and chemical changes that affect not only comfort and pleasure in sex, but sometimes even interfere with desire – aka the craving and wanting of sex.

Common complaints for women, particularly after menopause, include hormonal changes, low libido, vaginal dryness, and body image issues; with some conditions including vaginismus (muscle spasms sometimes accompanied by fear upon/with penetration) or vulvyodynia (vulvar pain). Further complicating this are women’s experiences with general practitioners or medical professionals who don’t provide any guidance, or focus solely on symptom reduction as opposed to pleasure.

One 54-year-old woman shared, “When I was going through the beginning stages of menopause, I did not receive guidance on what to do about continuing to have a healthy sex life. He was all about combatting symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, and insomnia.” Even after consulting with an OB/GYN, she says, “I was again given advice on what to do about the disturbing symptoms, but never was a discussion held about my feelings surrounding the changes. What do I do about a declining libido? What do I do about the vaginal dryness? What do I do about the increased difficulty in achieving orgasm? I felt very disregarded as an otherwise active, healthy woman who wanted to continue to enjoy a wonderful sex life.”

Outside of getting a thorough medical evaluation and seeking out sex-positive medical professionals, Lida Caraway, a Licensed Professional Counselor and Sex Therapist, emphasizes the importance of getting knowledge and permission on what feels good, and that this can change and evolve as women age. She says, “I try to focus on and give education about pleasure. I hear a lot of women who just haven’t been given the tools (literally) or education or freedom to say, ‘I deserve pleasure. I deserve an orgasm as much as my partner.’ I’m trying to empower women around this.”

If you’re struggling with accessing your desire and pleasure in the bedroom, here are some tips that may help regardless of age:

Estrogen cream. Thinning tissues can mean dryness, irritation, itching, or genital pain. Topical estrogen can improve blood flow and sensation, ameliorate pain or discomfort, as well as decrease likelihood of UTI’s and other complications.

Artificial lube. Wetness does NOT equal being turned on, but it is extremely important in preventing too much friction, which can lead to tearing, infections, etc. Find a texture that feels good to you, and if using condoms, go for water-based lube over oil base.

Increased stimulation. Decreased blood flow means that orgasms may take longer or be impeded. Try spending more time with foreplay or teasing, and explore varying kinds of sensations through self-touch, exploration with sex toys, or with your partner teasing and unlocking what feels good according to your different senses.

Consult a sexual health expert. Look for someone certified through The American Association for Sexuality Educators, Counselors, or Therapists, or someone with extensive training.

Emphasis on pleasure centers. The brain is our greatest pleasure center, at every age! Lisa also emphasizes indulging hearing and touch as part of our sexual repertoire. “These two things are the last to leave us… If you engaged in whispering sweet nothings into your partner’s ears, continue to do that to the bitter end.” And don’t count out the powerhouse dynamo of the clitoris –  it has all the same exquisite nerve endings as the head of a male’s penis, concentrated into only a few square centimeters.

Permission to play. Even with my own clients, we look at things such as: What helps me feel relaxed and open to pleasure? What things whet my appetite, or make me feel curious, intrigued, or even a little turned on? What feels good to me, ranging from an innocent caress all the way to how I want to be touched in my sexual fantasies?

Part of exercising your right to being a sexual creature at any age (if you desire!) is allowing yourself permission for pleasure. In a society that fears and ostracizes aging, this may also mean showing grace to yourself as your body changes and evolves, and challenging aging biases that may get in the way of creating those hot, fun, steamy, or even silly moments in the bedroom. At the end of the day, desire has as much to do with our emotions and psyche as it does with biology, but how YOU FEEL matters, and you’re deserving of attention and care so that you can feel like a sexual goddess at any age.