In this column, I would like to try and summarize how sex and love changes as we age. I am basing this on what my clients have been telling me over the past 17 years as a therapist to the San Diego LGBT community. I invite you to see if these observations align with your experience (or not).
In your teens: Typically, at this age, there’s a lot of sexual experimentation, with yourself or others. Many teenagers are sexually active, mostly with other teenagers, but a few have older partners. Some consider themselves “fluid”, enjoying experimentation with both genders. Some teenagers have active fantasy and Internet-based sex lives, but no actual physical contact with other people.
In your 20’s: Excitement and experimentation prevail: everyone’s a potential lover. This is the era when you’re supposed to date/hook-up a lot, have lots of (safe) sex and a variety of sexual and romantic “experiences”. Why not go to lots of parties and try different kinds of lovemaking with a wide range of people? Why not experiment with topping and bottoming, leather and lace, restraints and intense sex? Now is the time. Until the end of your 20’s, most of us are still avidly experimenting…and this is a great time to do it.
In your 30’s: Your love life is probably growing more selective, maybe you’re embarking on your first long-term relationship. The struggles of vulnerability beckon: how to lay down your (emotional) armor and really let someone see you, flaws and all. You may start to notice physical changes like hair thinning/loss and a gently-increasing waistline. Sexually, you may have a good sense of what you like (and don’t) and are getting good at expressing it with a partner.
In your 40’s: If you’re in a long-term relationship, you may be struggling with boredom or repetition. If you’re single, you may wondering why. This is a time when many of us start therapy to figure out what we’re doing wrong in the relationship department. You may be noticing more gray hair, wrinkles and/or a thickening at the waist/hips. Some of us take up with much younger lovers, in one last gasp of trying to feel/be “young”. Your sex life becomes more of an “art” than an endurance contest.
In your 50’s: This is hard age for many of us; can we accept that we’re now in the second half of our lives? Or are we in denial with liposuction, plastic surgery, botox, viagra and expensive personal trainers? We can fight symptoms of age in our 40’s, but, our 50’s invite us to make peace with our body, the parts we love and the parts that embarrass us. Sexually, our body doesn’t always do what we want it to do. How can we work with that? Do we still feel desirable when we’re no longer young and cute?
In your 60’s: Yes, we’re still having sex! And we may be retired and have more time for it. But what is our love life like now? Can we enjoy being sensual and erotic, or do we need to get off to feel okay about ourselves? Masturbation may become more interesting as intercourse becomes more logistically challenging. Affection may be more important than sex, as wisdom informs physical enthusiasm. It’s not all good, but much of it is.
70’s and upwards: Alex Morris, in his New York Magazine article “Very Legal: Sex and Love in Retirement” writes about couples in a (straight) retirement community: “Traditionally, nursing homes don’t encourage sex…then there’s the fear of sexually transmitted diseases, which, owing in part to Viagra, are famously on the rise among the geriatric population… As one retired man puts it, ‘Sex takes a little longer now, but it’s wonderful. I can go on. You know?’ A female resident said: ‘Your time is limited. When you reach 80, what have you got to lose?’
I hope you’ve enjoyed these ten-year “snapshots”; please forgive the generalizations. My intention is to put out some ideas for your consideration: what have you been through? What are you experiencing now? And what does your future love/sex life look like?
It’s all food for thought. Enjoy your thinking!