Dear Ate Anna,
My wife and I have been married for almost 30 years and we have always enjoyed a good sex life. But lately, we are having some problems and I am hoping you can give me some advice. In the last 6 months I have noticed that sex is not as reliable as it used to be. My wife says I am just tired because I have been working too much. Could that be the problem? Do you think a winter vacation will bring the romance back into our relationship?
A winter vacation sounds like a nice way to bring romance to a relationship. But people have to be careful that they don’t put too many expectations on one week of vacation!
There are many beliefs in our society that encourage us to think our sexuality is like a switch – it is either on or off. In fact, our sexuality changes throughout our life. You are probably just noticing some of these changes now. Men in their fifties often complain that their erections are not as “reliable” as they used to be. This is normal, but if a man is not able to keep an erection long enough for intercourse, he should visit his doctor. An erection is the result of blood flowing into the penis. If there are problems with that, it can be a sign of other health issues (e.g. clogged arteries, heart disease) that need to be addressed.
As women begin to go through the changes that lead to menopause (perimenopause) they may notice changes in their sex lives, as well. The vagina takes longer to become lubricated during sexual arousal. Vaginal dryness during intercourse can cause discomfort and a woman may lose interest in sex. Hot flashes during the night, stress and hormonal changes can disrupt a woman’s sleep, making her tired. Some women enjoy the freedom of not having to worry about birth control after menopause. Others believe that once they can no longer have children, they should forget about sex.
As people reach middle age, they also notice that lifestyle factors like stress, lack of exercise, poor eating habits, cigarette smoking and alcohol/drug use all take a greater toll on sexual responsiveness. As well, medication can affect a person’s desire for sex and/or their sexual response. If this is an issue for you, ask your doctor if there is another medication with less of these side effects.
Even if a person is interested in having sex, it can take longer to become sexually aroused. If a couple doesn’t understand that some of these changes are normal, one partner may think that the other doesn’t find them attractive anymore or, even worse, their partner is having an affair. We all know the stereotype about the man who leaves his wife for a younger girlfriend. The other choice that men are making is to get a prescription for Viagra. Ate Anna thinks your idea for a winter vacation sounds like a much better option!
However, don’t expect a vacation, by itself, to be the solution. Most people believe that planning for sex isn’t romantic. We believe that we shouldn’t have to talk about it – unless it is to tell a joke or spread some interesting gossip. Spontaneous sex can be fun, but communication is also an important part of a satisfying sexual relationship.
Romero, talk to your partner so that you can deal with these changes in a positive way.
Sometimes the solution is simply taking more time for sex with less focus on intercourse. Make the time to enjoy the physical sensations of other types of touching - for example, a loving massage. There are books and Internet sites written for midlife (and older) couples that can give you some ideas.
You and your wife may need to be willing to try new things. However, neither of you should feel pressured to do something that makes you uncomfortable. Many older couples find that talking and being open to new ideas actually increases the intimacy in their relationship. Ate Anna thinks that a vacation might be the perfect time to try out this new way of doing things.
SERC has an information package on Sexuality and Aging that includes a list of website and books. If any readers would like to receive a copy of this package, please contact Ate Anna by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or write to: 555 Broadway, 2nd floor; Winnipeg Manitoba R3C 0W4.