Sex, intimacy and aging: Elders' advice

Last summer I was privileged to sit in a circle of elderly woman as they discussed sex and aging.

They ranged from early 70s to 80. Each enjoyed good to excellent health, and most were married (some to second husbands). One woman was gay. One woman had been widowed in her 40s, and was now in a new, tentative relationship.

Their advice was, "Pay attention to your love life". The majority were with partners who had health issues that made intimacy sporadic, limited or not possible. I was struck by the tenderness with which they reminisced, recalling passion and its physical and emotional gifts.

Rather like those of us in our 50s and 60s who wished we'd worn our bikini more often, they wished they'd taken more time to enjoy the pleasure and bonding of lovemaking before aging diminished desire or ability.

I asked one of the eldest if she and her husband at least cuddled. "My husband is an all-or-nothing kind of guy", she said ruefully.

I appreciated their reminder that one's intimate life is vulnerable to the challenges of aging. Like the decline of physical ability, I couldn't quite imagine losing what I had taken for granted.

"I'm glad we had those wonderful nights when the children were asleep and we would dance and dance and finally dance to the bedroom", one of the oldest said to me, "because the memory of it keeps me close to him now."


It is sad that for many people (in particular for heterosexual men, but I'm not pointing fingers) sex and intimacy only refer to intercourse.

Problems with desire automatically leading to reliable mechanics can occur as early as middle age (or earlier, for reasons of illness or other circumstances) and it is very sad that people can't find ways of remaining intimate until they die, as long as they want to and are still interested in one another.
mette said…
Just yesterday I heard bits and pieces of a study started in the 1970´s about marriages in Finland. Damn, I didn´t get it all, but the results were something like around 80% women and men felt happy in their marriage. Marriage at a very young age increased the risk of divorce. Money didn´t pay a great role. But- an active sex life was ranked top along with fidelity.
materfamilias said…
A lovely and thoughtful post, Duchesse. After 36 years together (35 married), we're still lucky in our physical life together, but we work at that luck and your post is a good reminder of why it's worth it.
(and from what I've read, "using it" is a way to prevent "losing it", especially for women . . . and that's all I'm sayin')
Belle de Ville said…
Thank god for science,now we have a failed anti-depressant that seems to work as a libido booster in women, the women's viagra, if you will.
This could be a great thing.
Duchesse said…
lagatta: These women were very open to all forms of intimacy.

metscan: I'm encouraged by this and will see if I can find out more.

materfamilias: The woman who had been widowed had to have gynecological surgery to be functional again. She said that no one told her this could happen and if she had known, could have prevented it.

Belle: Yes, it could ;) In this group, they were still quite interested while at the same time acknowledging the changes brought by aging.
Oh, what a lovely, lovely post. Honestly I'm teary.

I think it's wonderful you wrote it. Some more fainthearted might not have. Bravo for you.

Thank goodness there are so many ways to be intimate. We must never lose sight of that.

Since you have no "follower" gadget, up you go on my list of favorites (I would have done both, but can't). I admire your esprit enormously.

I like the idea you're 5'10'' as well. . .

You're a credit to our age.


Duchesse said…
tishjett: There's a Followers gadget at the bottom of the blog page (just above the Labels)! I appreciate Followers as they are tangible encouragement to keep writing.

Sexual health is relevant for women of 50+, whether we have a current partner(s) or not.
sue said…
Could you possibly elaborate on your note above to materfamilias: "The woman who had been widowed had to have gynecological surgery to be functional again."

This is something I haven't heard of. What happens if you don't use it and what is done during the surgery?
Duchesse said…
sue: The hymenal ring may remain intact in some women. In her case, this was not a problem when she was producing estrogen, which kept it elastic. After menopause and years of celibacy, this was no longer the case, and required surgical treatment. (As I understand it the surgery was after her MDs attempts at dilation, which was not an adequate treatment.)
Sorry, I'm a tech twit as I mentioned to D.P. who graciously offered to help. I was looking for squares on the left and right, not a large rectangle on the bottom.

Thank you for being my GPS, which I think I'll ask Santa to deliver this year. I never know where I'm going in a car either.
Kristine said…
Thanks for this lovely and informative post. Although I'm only 40, I've been without a relationship for a few years now. I very much needed to focus on myself these few years, but I've been yearning for an intimate connection. I am hopeful that if I get the opportunity to be in a relationship again, this is one aspect of it that I will nurture on a regular basis.
greying pixie said…
Words of wisdom indeed. Thank you for writing on a subject so very rarely talked about.

Definitely something to think about over the weekend whilst cooking next week's meals (for 5 adult apetites) in advance, doing the weekly food shop, walking and brushing the dogs, cleaning the kitchen, putting out the rubbish, doing the laundry, catching up on paperwork and e-mails, careing for my mother-in-law (with dementia), washing my hair and generally giving myself a weekly overhaul!

I guess late middle age, before the children leave home and whilst parents are ageing and needing attention, is not the perfect time for considering any shortfalls in one's sex life!... I'm just grateful I can laugh about it with my husband...
Duchesse said…
greying pixie; Your remark reminded me of the woman present who said, "Now we finally have time to chase each other around the house, but we've forgotten why." Anther then admitted that she had tripped over a piece of furniture "frisking around" and her husband had to try to get clothes on her while she lay with a broken leg, before the ambulance came.
Anonymous said…
I'm afraid I still don't get this: "The hymenal ring may remain intact in some women. In her case, this was not a problem when she was producing estrogen, which kept it elastic. After menopause and years of celibacy, this was no longer the case, and required surgical treatment." Does this mean she was a virgin for all her fertile years, and then sometime after menopause acquired a sex life and this became a problem? And either way (virgin, nonvirgin), are you saying she needed surgery to be able to have intercourse? I haven't had sex (or even much thought about it) for 10+ years, but I would die of embarrassment to even approach a doctor with such a request.
Duchesse said…
Anonymous: No, I am not saying that. Sexual activity can alter- but does not remove- this membrane. See an anatomy text or Wikipedia. While she was producing estrogen, it was elastic, after menopause, not. She did not provide details of the surgery, only that it was a successful procedure. Nor am I saying that any woman celibate for an extended period would require the surgery, but she did.
Angie Muresan said…
I'm here via Materfamilias and wanted to say that I am very intrigued with this post. I have been working as a provider for seniors for the last 15 years. I can tell you that they crave intimacy just as much as the rest of us.
Duchesse said…
Angie: Welcome! I was somewhat aware of that but sitting with them, hearing them talk was illuminating for me.
sallymandy said…
I'm very glad you posted this. I will take these women's advice to heart.

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