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Beating the Odds: Couples Sexuality After Age 60

Couple sexuality after age 60 can be energizing and satisfying.

Key points

  • With aging, sexuality becomes more human and genuine.
  • You need each other as intimate and erotic allies.
  • Female-male sexual equity and good enough sex promote sexuality and aging.

By Barry McCarthy, Ph.D., and Tamara Oppliger, MA

The good news: There is solid scientific evidence that not only can couples be sexual in their sixties, seventies, and eighties, but aging sexuality is energizing and satisfying. The bad news: One in three couples stop having sex between ages 60 and 65, and two and three couples stop being sexual between 70 and 75. Typically, the choice to stop is the man’s because he has lost confidence with erections and intercourse. He makes this choice unilaterally and conveys it non-verbally by avoiding sexual touching. He says to himself, “I don’t want to start something I can’t finish.” This is a self-defeating choice for him, her, and them.

Couples who continue to be sexual while aging realizes this reinforces feelings of desire and desirability and energizes their intimate bond. They replace the old narrow approach to intercourse with a new motivating and empowering approach. Rather than “sex =intercourse,” they adopt a definition of sexuality that involves sensual, playful, and erotic scenarios in addition to intercourse. Instead of demanding perfect sexual performance, they embrace the GES model that emphasizes sexuality as a couple process of giving and receiving pleasure-oriented touch. The traditional male-female double standard is dropped and replaced by the female-male sexual equity model.

The best couples' sexuality is mutual and synchronous, both partners experience high levels of desire, pleasure, eroticism, satisfaction. However, accept that most sexual experiences are asynchronous (good, but better for one partner than the other). Valuing asynchronous sexuality promotes sexual satisfaction.

Positive, realistic sexual expectations are key. This includes the reality that 5-15 percent (or more) of encounters are mediocre, dissatisfying, or dysfunctional. Turning toward the partner rather than apologizing or avoiding promotes resilient sexuality.

The most challenging issue involves intercourse. For their entire sexual life, intercourse has been the measure of sex, especially for men. The challenge is to embrace non-intercourse sexuality (sensual, playful, and erotic scenarios). The GES model advocates for sensual and erotic scenarios when sex does not flow to intercourse. The challenge for the man and couple is to accept sexuality whether intercourse occurs in 90 percent, 70 percent, 50 percent, 20 percent, or 0 percent of encounters. The essence of sexuality is giving and receiving pleasure, not intercourse. Erection, intercourse, and orgasm are valued but do not allow the narrow definition of sex as intercourse to control a couple's sexuality.

With aging, the positive dimensions of broad-based, flexible sexuality become clearer. Sexuality and aging are more human and genuine; it brings out the best in the woman, man, and couple. They need each other in a manner that was not true 20 years before. This is particularly relevant regarding responsive sexual desire for both partners. An involved, receptive partner is the major aphrodisiac.

Rates of illness and disability increase with age. The challenge is to utilize all psychological, bio-medical, relational, and psychosexual skill resources to enhance couple sexuality. Medical intervention cannot do it all nor be a stand-alone resource. The medical intervention needs to be integrated into the couple's sexual style. Crucial learning for older men is to “piggyback” his arousal on her arousal. Rather than hoping for a “show-up” erection, accept the “grown-up“ erection that comes from giving and receiving pleasure and eroticism.

A special joy of sexuality and aging is being intimate and erotic friends who value the variability and unpredictability of sexuality. It is crucial to create an individualized relapse prevention plan so they maintain satisfying sexuality as well as add new sexual scenarios and techniques. Sexuality cannot rest on its laurels nor be treated with benign neglect.

References

We advocate for broad-based, flexible sexuality. See: Couple Sexuality After 60.

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