April 1, 2013

Sex: At Our Age? After Retirement?

The title of this post will probably generate extra views and spam. Mention sex and virtually everyone perks up. Even though sex is required for the continuation of the species and is a natural and normal activity as part of a healthy life, the subject comes with tremendous baggage. Some of that baggage is cultural, some religious, some from lack of information, and some from too much information.

Why am I writing about a subject that is as taboo as politics or deep religious discussions for most polite conversations? Because it is a subject that is important but pretty much ignored in the retirement blogging world.

If you are reading for a gratuitous thrill or titillation you will be disappointed. I am not discussing specific activities, body parts, or anything that may shock you. There will be no YouTube video clip. I won't be discussing my sex life. My intention is a mature discussion, not a wink and snicker interaction.

The questions are really simple: What role does sex play in a relationship as we age? How important is it? How does it change over the years? Is there a way to maintain a romantic feeling without sex?

Plenty of studies indicate that our improved health allows for sexual activity to extend well into our later years. Common wisdom used to be that "senior citizens" didn't engage in sexual activity after a certain age, often by 60. But, recent studies rebuke that. In fact, a federal study released last year found that at least a quarter of respondents still were sexually active into their 70's and and 80's. The decline in sexual activity can be traced as much to being alone after the death of a partner as to physical or psychological reasons.

It is true that sexual activity does taper down for many in their late 50's. But, it certainly doesn't have to stop. There may be changes in the type of activities undertaken, but total cessation is usually not necessary.

There are obvious physical changes that happen to our bodies. Embarrassment over sags and bags can prevent someone from feeling comfortable during love making. Male and female bodies may not perform the way we want them to as we age. While pills or other medications can help, the result isn't as natural or spontaneous as we remember.

So, what should be done? What can be done?

The most important answer is no different when you are 60 or 70 than when you were 20 or 30: become engaged in sexual activity for the right reasons, like love and companionship and not become someone wants you to or you feel you are "supposed to."  From what I have read, the pressure to have sex doesn't stop just because a certain birthday is reached. And, that type of pressure is wrong at any age.

Your doctor can determine if you are healthy enough for any type of sexual activity. Various medications can be prescribed if the need is indicated. Probably every single one of us would be hesitant to discuss this with a doctor. But, I think you will find your physician understands how important sex can be to your emotional and physical well being so he or she should be strongly supportive.

Other web sites dealing with this subject offer plenty of options for maintaining the physical  or romantic side of a relationship even if sexual activity is not possible. Holding hands while walking or cuddling on the sofa while watching a movie together allows for the power of touch. Hugging and kissing can be quite pleasant any age.

Having a regular "date night" could mean a meal at a favorite restaurant followed by a walk together while holding hands and window shopping. Or, it could mean shutting off the computers and cell phones, lighting a few candles while dimming the lights, and watching a movie together at home. The key is to make time to be with each other without interruptions. Sex doesn't have to be on the menu for a date night to be memorable and meaningful.

The web site, romanceclass had an excellent summary of the way to think about non-sexual romantic activities: "Intimacy is all about two people forming a connection and bond between them. That involves becoming best friends, trusting each other, knowing each other, understanding each other. A couple holding hands and sitting together quietly, watching a sun set, can be FAR more intimate and connected than sex. Intimacy is grown and developed, it can't be rushed."

Absolutely. I guess if I throw in my 2 cents worth (and I probably should) keeping the romance alive is a very important part of a satisfying retirement. If it involves fulfilling, consensual sexual activity that is great. If it involves looking into each other's eyes, holding hands, giving a shoulder rub after a tough day, or simply giving your full attention when your partner wants to talk that will heighten your intimacy and satisfaction every bit as much.

One thing we can be thankful for: the pressure to perform in one way, and one way only, is something most of us left  back in our youth. Life and love are so much richer when you engage all your senses and your mind instead of just your body.

If you'd like some additional thoughts, this is an excellent web site:
Help guide for elder sexuality


  1. The biggest change I have noticed over the years is that I have much more of an appreciation for sex than I had before, that it truly is a gift. Also, back in the early days one had sex almost because one "had to", versus having sex now because you want to.

    I also agree that as you age the relationship you have with your partner is paramount. Sex is just one more manifestation of that relationship.

    1. I agree completely with your last paragraph. Instead of the be-all and end-all esp. for guys) sex takes on a supportive role in a relationship. There is a big difference between sex and love, something it takes maturity to understand.

  2. Well said Bob and I have to agree with Chuck as well. My wife and I are mid 50's and have been married for over 35 years. We've been through phyiscal changes as have most of us. Sex is still an important part of our shared intimacy but as we've matured we've come to realize that the life we share has produced far more facets of intimacy than I considered when I was 22. In many ways, life is far more richer now than when I was younger. It really can just keep getting better!

    Bob Martinez

    1. Life is certainly fuller now for Betty and me as we approach our 37th anniversary in June. Intimacy has become so much more than just a physical component.

  3. This is a great post...my husband underwent radical surgery for ca almost 15
    years ago and has not been interested in any form of physical intimacy since then. I care deeply for him and am so saddened by this. I do appreciate his hugs and rather platonic kisses....but so miss this connection with him. He has sought counselling and we have been together.....but without his ability to "function" in the traditional manner he wants nothing to do with physical closeness. He understands that I would be overjoyed with whatever we have in the present to enjoy each other. He is 73 and I am 66....so we hopefully have more good years together and I feel the loss of the years behind us...and don't want this to be the final chapter of the rest of our lives. I am blessed that he verbally expresses his love for me and is thoughtful in many ways. He has expressed thanks for my kindness and patience with him and will sometimes say he needs to meet my needs instead of just his....but nothing happens. When I make overtures to him....rejection. Wow....your post opened the proverbial flood gates for me....thanks for letting me vent.....definitely tmi :) Helen

    1. I'm so happy this post allowed you to process some feelings and vent. Obviously you two have strong feelings for each other but the expression is not what you need or want.

      I am very sure you are not alone in this situation and I appreciate you being open about all this. Others who read this will certainly empathize and not feel as if they are the only ones feeling this way.

  4. I was a bit hesitant to share with my husband that I had let such personal feelings out into the universe. In the end, I asked him to read your post and the comments....one of which was mine. He was struck by how difficult this must have been to put into words since it is difficult and painful when we engage together on this subject. Somehow this setting....a third party forum if you will, was less threatening...especially for him. He was able to read and consider without needing to defend. His feedback to me was kind and loving and he was interested in the male responses and thoughts. He believes he needs to seek help for change. Don't know if he will follow through...but your post certainly provoked some heart searching for us. Thank you Bob. Helen

  5. That took real courage on both your parts. Bless you both and I wish you all the best.

  6. Touche. Sound arguments. Keep up the great effort.


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