As you move through the retirement phase of life, you may slow down on a lot of things, whether by choice or because of inevitable changes. Of course, your work life comes to a close as you focus your energy on other things. Once an avid tennis player, you may find your stamina better suited for a game of pickle ball. Your vacations may transition from long hiking trips to more relaxed forms of travel, like cruising.
One place where retirement doesn’t have to mean scaling back or giving up, however, is in the bedroom.
Of course, the topic of sexuality and aging is still rather taboo. Ageist stereotypes pervade our culture and have shaped the way we conceptualize the issue. Rationalizations for such ideas can range from a belief that as people age they become less attractive and less desirable, to the belief that older persons’ bodies can no longer handle sex.
Think of the media portrayal of sexuality as a gift for the young. Think of the archaic notion that sexual activity is primarily a reproductive endeavor. Think of long institutionalized ideas of sexual desire as shameful. This last stereotype is perhaps the most damaging. Implicit in this belief is that desires and capacity for sexual activity either diminishes with age or becomes “dirty.” Ever heard tales of the “dirty old man” or the “sex crazed cougar?” I have.
All of these stereotypes are just that – widely held but fixed and oversimplified ideas about sex as we age. None are helpful.
Consider this: when it comes to retirement planning, we chart the course we want our financial and personal lives to take. But the topic of sexual activity is rarely, if ever, broached. Now, I’m not suggesting that you dish about your sex life to your financial planner, but a candid conversation with your primary care physician may be helpful.
A fundamental truth is that the need for love and intimacy shows up early in life and doesn’t go away through the passage of time. In fact, it could be said that the need for love and touch may grow as people age because family and friends move away, pass away, or become ill. Generally speaking, there are normal changes to our sexual lives that occur with age. Sexual activity may slow down for some people as they reach retirement age, but it certainly doesn’t have to stop.
What’s important is that we keep any shift in context; change doesn’t mean the loss of sexual desire, activity, or need for intimacy. This is 2017, after all, and we are in the age of medications like Viagra, Cialis, Osphena, and Estriol. These prescription drugs can not only resurrect but also extend one’s sex life.
And extending and maximizing our sex lives is an important part of remaining fulfilled, both in and out of bed. Research on the topic has found that keeping the romance alive in a relationship is an important part of a satisfying retirement. Other researchers found that older adults who engage in fulfilling sexual encounters have a greater propensity toward positive health behaviors, and (as an added bonus) an increase in longevity.
So, healthy sex doesn’t have to go by the wayside just because you stop clocking in at the office every day. And while aging in and of itself doesn’t equal diminishment in sexual activity, if we find ourselves slowing, we shouldn’t give sexual satisfaction up altogether. It may just mean that you, like other couples, have to adjust your definition of sexual activity and intimacy.
No matter if we’re male or female, our body parts may not respond the way we want them to all the time. And guess what? That’s actually okay. Knowing that your body may not rise to the occasion doesn’t mean other opportunities are off the table. Researchers have coined a phrase for the phenomenon of redefining how older couples approach sex: “good enough sex.”
The key to practicing “good enough sex” is realizing that there are ways to stimulate and satisfy our partners and us. When we talk about intercourse, one big step for couples adjusting to aging bodies and common conditions like arthritis may mean trying new positions and things to lessen joint pain. Researchers posit that when we talk about engaging in sexual activity, it can span beyond the traditional script of intercourse. Play and adaptation becomes more important, as does creativity. The prime consideration is to view sex and the aging process as a challenge rather than a loss.
Despite pervasive ageist attitudes and stereotypes about sex and aging, some researchers believe the landscape is changing, thanks in large part to the Baby Boomers. Studies suggest that sexual activity can go on well into our 80’s and even 90’s. We all know that we are on the precipice of the largest population of older adults in many decades. So this trend is likely to continue, as people near, or are already in, retirement are healthier and more active than ever before.
The senior boom in America has created a population who, with the gift of longevity and the added years it brings, will be redefining the style and purpose of those later years of life for themselves to include fulfilling sex, love and intimacy.