Sexual Matters

For those women lucky enough to embark on a new sexual relationship and who get it right, there can be many happy and fulfilling years ahead. There is no doubt that when a woman (or a man) finds a soul mate and a sexual partner they can trust, they invariably blossom. Supporting one another they can climb to greater heights with new opportunities and interests opening up to them. All the senses are re-awakened and with the right partner, someone with whom to share the ups and downs, life can seem worth living again. Emotionally re-charged these fortunate women and men find themselves facing the future with optimism. (The sensible woman having learnt how to fall in love without losing herself and her identity in the process.)

The menopause has for many women finally put the fear of pregnancy behind them. Now they are free to enjoy recreational sex without the fear of it being procreational! But for mature women some things regarding sex have changed dramatically since youth, and now, in the year 2003 it is advisable to insist that a new partner wear a condom during intercourse. Not however to avoid an unwanted pregnancy, but to protect from Aids and other sexually transmitted diseases. Recently a disturbing study in America by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention found that the numbers of people within the 50+-age group in the US who have contracted HIV through heterosexual sex, has doubled. It suggests that because of the high divorce rate many people of this age group are back playing the dating game, but because there is little or no risk of pregnancy they do not bother to use condoms.

For both men and women the human sexual response system has four basic stages – desire; arousal; orgasm; and resolution. Most mature couples have experienced these stages of sexual activity over many years, but changes occur to our bodies with age, which we need to be aware of, in order to maintain good lovemaking. The desire to make love is still there to varying and individual degrees, but touch now becomes even more important in increasing the awareness and excitement. Of course women enjoy this less frantic approach to sex since they have always enjoyed a longer period of foreplay involving sexual and sensual arousal. Now she and her partner can both enjoy the extended pleasure, since it takes just that little bit extra to kindle the flame!

With an understanding and less urgent older partner women have time to enjoy the intimacy of tender, gentle loving, and the need for both partners to reach orgasm on every occasion of sexual contact becomes less important. Orgasm isn’t the ultimate any more and it may be reached only in one out of three occasions. This extended arousal time can give both partners great pleasure for the longer period it takes for an older man to get a full erection. His erection will come and go and not be as hard as in previous years, and in order to maintain it, direct stimulation – oral or manual will be needed. With less urgency this can be a time for both partners to enjoy exploring and developing new techniques. Women may find that by using a lubricating jelly it will solve the problem of vaginal dryness experienced by many women at this stage. With an increase in years comes an increase in the time it takes for a man to achieve orgasm, and his ejaculation may be less intense.

This extended and less hurried lovemaking and sexual intercourse can be very pleasing for relaxed and considerate lovers who are not only obsessed with a dramatic final performance. Women with the experience of years know that they don’t necessarily need to climax at the same time as their partners do during penetration. In fact the Hite Report 1989 reported that only about 30% of women do have a simultaneous orgasm with their partner at this time. Female arousal may come and go according to the skill of their partners who need guidance in order to be aware of how the clitoris in particular needs stimulation, either directly or indirectly, to satisfy their partner. Many women are content to reach orgasm as a result of manual or oral stimulation either before or after their partner has ejaculated. Some older women take a long time to peak or do not reach orgasm at all. Nevertheless they perfectly satisfied and content to luxuriate during the final stage of resolution, in the intimacy and closeness of mental and physical contact with their lover.

This period of snuggling and cuddling together can be a magic time for both partners and a time to re-assure and re-affirm their love for one another. For other couples it can create difficult moments, and disappointed if one partner chooses, for whatever reason, to immediately sleep or to avoid intimate discussion. Familiarity can breed contempt and it has to be said that sex can be a major casualty if partners no longer fancy or respect one another. Illness and depression can cause a serious but hopefully temporary imbalance between partners, with one partner left feeling isolated if the other has rejected them. Sex needs to be worked at for it to be a satisfying experience for both partners, and in order to avoid it becoming routine, predictable and boring. Physical changes, which accompany ageing, do undoubtedly limit some sexual activities, and can cause the flame of love to flicker a little. But an open and frank approach to sex, a change or two in lovemaking positions or procedures, plus a little humour will keep the torch alight and burning brightly for many more years to come. If you experience medical or mental problems which are seriously affecting you or your partner’s sexual health don’t hesitate to seek professional advice.

Women taking hormone replacement therapy to help with menopausal problems such as hot flushes, or for strengthening bones and protecting hearts, may find that it also increases sexual libido and prevents vaginal dryness. Possible alternatives for some older women, who experience discomfort during intercourse, are one of the many lubricating vaginal gels available from chemists. Alternatively she may be able to have local hormone replacement therapy prescribed for her by her GP, which can also help lubricate the vagina and make sex more pleasurable. Some male partners who have trouble getting and maintaining an erection, a problem which comes with age may depending on medical history, be prescribed the drug Viagra to overcome the problem.

But according to psychosexual therapist Dr Ruth Westheimer men should receive education along with the prescription for Viagra to explain the effect it may have on his partner and their relationship. Partners who over the years have gradually accepted his impotence may have adapted to the situation with his help, by deriving stimulation and sexual satisfaction in other ways. She may not immediately greet the sudden re-appearance of her partner’s erection with his anticipated delight, and the re-born stud’s eagerness to prove himself may prove too much for her. In many cases in his revived flurry and excitement he selfishly abandons foreplay, forgets to seduce her and leaves her frustrated. They need to talk! Sometimes mental or emotional worries can have an adverse effect on male erection. Learn to talk openly, free of inhibitions with your partner and if necessary seek medical advice to help resolve problems. Women can be a strong influence on men and can change their reluctant attitude to their health. So whilst you are talking to him about sex please encourage your partner to check his testicles for any unusual changes, they may be an indication of testicular cancer. Most cancers, if they are diagnosed in their early stages, can be treated successfully.

For 50 years experts studying the decrease of sexual drive in older women have suspected a link with the falling hormonal levels of progesterone and testosterone. An international trial of the hormone testosterone is looking at the problem of falling libido in post-menopausal women. A synthetic hormone administered via a patch worn on a women’s arm in the same manner as HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) may prove to be the answer. Oestrogen is produced in the ovaries, as is the male hormone testosterone, in small amounts. Levels of both hormones drop dramatically at the time of the menopause or earlier if a woman’s ovaries are removed during hysterectomy. Taking HRT addresses the decrease of the female hormone oestrogen and is already proven to reduce menopausal problems such as mood swings or hot flushes, which result from the drop. At the Centre for Metabolic Bone Disease in Hull, head of clinical research Professor David Purdie said “What we want to do is to allow people to maintain a normal sex life – there’s no reason why it should end in the early fifties”. He commented that some shaky relationships get broken up from the strain put on a woman as a result of her loss of sex drive. Interestingly he has also observed that British women tend to stoically put up with the problem, but that men are not always understanding of the situation. That will not come as a surprise to many of us women! Maybe as a result of these trials the patches could become the female equivalent of the sex drug Viagra.

Today there is no need for partners to feel in the least bit embarrassed when talking about sexual matters. From experience mature women should know what they do, or don’t like when they have sex. Women must take responsibility for enabling herself to have an orgasm. Women all have different sexual requirements and different timing – we need to use our imagination. Men of course can’t fake orgasm, but women can. But with age, some women may have physical difficulties, as well as emotional ones to overcome. In order for a couple to have a happy and satisfying sex life, they must be prepared to be open with one another in order to talk through their problems and their needs. If they find this is difficult or embarrassing they need to consult their GP or Relate counsellor for advice, to help them both find a satisfying solution.

Mature women who have a regular and fulfilling sex life seem happier and more relaxed than others do for whom sex has become a far off memory. Dr David Weeks consultant neuropsychologist at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital says “ Like a number of other stimulating sensations, sex releases a group of substances in the brain, among them the beta-endorphins, natural painkillers that also alleviate anxiety”. Good sex has often been likened to other physical activities such as jogging and brisk walking. Regular participation can benefit our general health, increase longevity and helps us to retain a youthful look.

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