I agree with Terry that sexual intimacy is an important aspect of a primary relationship, and along with matters related to family and finances, the one most likely to lead to problems if not adequately tended. It is also one of those areas in which male and female points of view, preferences and needs can differ.
It has been said that for a woman foreplay is everything that has happened since the last time she was sexually intimate with her partner. My own experience would suggest that this is true. Anything that leads to irritation, frustration, annoyance, or a sense of being misunderstood or unappreciated can turn feelings of love and tenderness into those of resentment. And resentment leads to withdrawal, unless there is an adequate “repair.” For many women, including me, repair often requires talking things through, but sometimes it’s as simple as following through on a promised task.
Lack of resentment is necessary for sexual connection, but not sufficient. Along with feeling understood and appreciated, I want to feel “safe.” Emotional safety requires a sense of trust, openness and connection, and this can be achieved through talking, or by doing things together or for each other. It means feeling important. And how do you know you’re important? When your partner wants to spend time with you, and especially when he takes the time to listen to and understand what you’re saying.
Female brains often don’t compartmentalize as well as male brains, which means that feeling “safe” can also mean that the family and finances have been adequately tended. It’s hard to feel sexual when you’re worried about a child or afraid the bills won’t get paid. I’m less worried about these things now than when I was a mother of young children, but I also know that there are older women who are sandwiched between responsibilities and anxiety regarding their not-quite-launched offspring and their aging parents, as well as those for whom limited incomes are great cause for concern. And anything that causes worry or depression can turn down the fire of sexual desire.
At every age, our physical wellbeing can also affect our ability to be sexually intimate, and probably more so as we age. It’s hard to feel romantically inclined when you’re in pain or fatigued, and fluctuating or declining hormone levels have a big impact on our sexual desire and pleasure. As we move through menopause and beyond, our estrogen levels fall, which can make intercourse less pleasant and even painful, but the good news is that there are a number of ways we can supplement and/or replace estrogen. If we are lucky enough to maintain our testosterone levels, we may even feel a surge in sexual desire, but when that hormone level drops significantly, so does our libido. And again, supplements can help.
A significant impact on a woman’s sexual desire is the degree to which she feels attractive to her partner. Normal aging brings wrinkled faces and sagging bodies that can make us self-conscious, and added weight can bring feelings of shame that make us want to hide rather than open up to a lover’s touch. It’s important to know that we are beautiful and desirable “enough,” despite the passing years, and that we’ve still “got it” as far as our partner is concerned. Some of this is under our control, like taking care of our health in terms of doing what we can to get enough sleep and exercise, maintain social connections, and follow a healthy diet. But some things are beyond our control, and we need reassurance that we will be loved and cherished even when our “warranties” run out.
And last but not least, I think both women and men need a sense of playfulness and humor in order to maintain a healthy sexual life as we grow old together. We’re more likely to have fun if we don’t take ourselves too seriously!