What is a ‘good sexual life’ for us older adults?

What is a ‘good sexual life’ for us older adults?

In my first post on FineWiner.com, I wrote about the five markers of a ‘good marriage.’ Coming in fifth on the list was sexual compatibility. This is one of the touchier issues to address for many couples. For some couples, sexual compatibility is being sexual three times a week; for others, being sexually compatible is having given up a sexual life. If I could choose to be reincarnated, I’d come back as the Sesame Street character–the ‘Count.’ I like benchmarks, averages. For younger folks (25-45), men are sexual about six times a month and women are sexual about four times a month. So, how about those of us in the ‘third age?’ Dr. Pepper Schwartz and her group did a great survey of AARP members of members older than 50 a few years back. In this older group, 31% of couples were sexual several times a week; 28% of couples were sexual a couple of times a month; 8% were sexual once a month. Sadly, a third (33%) said they rarely or never had sex. Among couples who reported being extremely happy in her survey, only one fourth rarely or never had a sexual life.

In my earlier posting about the Emotional Bank Account (EBA), a major point was the ‘deposits’ of trust or the ‘withdrawals’ in your joint EBA define how close you are to your partner. From my experience, for women to want to be physically intimate with their partner they first need to have sense of psychological intimacy— e.g., do they feel supported by their partner? It is hard to want to be sexual when often criticized. Remember with the EBA, it takes five deposits of trust to cover one withdrawal of trust. In the ‘five markers of a good marriage’ posting, at the top of the list was the frequent and open display of affection—holding hands occasionally, walking arm in arm, being appropriately affectionate in public. In Schwartz’s survey, almost 70% of couples that rarely have these moments of a public display of affection, rate themselves as unhappy or only slightly happy with their mates. Yet, 73% of the ‘happiest’ couples indulge in these public displays of affection at least a couple of times a month.

In my private psychology practice, I often see men, who despair when their partners withdraw from them sexually. I’ll let the women respond to that point as their withdrawal could be for a number of reasons. I don’t know of a man that doesn’t define himself sexually and having a sexual life is very important as to how they see themselves. Most men are confused about the difference between sex and love. Unfortunately when women are pleasant and attentive to us, we men often sexualize it somehow. Equally true, when our partners withdraw from us sexually, we assume they don’t love us.

For the majority of midlife and older adults, sex is a necessary component to living a healthy and happy life and sexual satisfaction plays a critical role in our perception of overall quality of life. In the continuing AARP survey, 85% of men and 61% of women say this is so.

Perhaps the largest sexual organ is between our ears. Can we talk to each other about our sexual lives? Can we discuss our values and what is important to us? Talk with your partner about what is important to your sexual life.

Terry Copeland

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  1. Jane:

    Very well said, “Perhaps the largest sexual organ is between our ears”.