Sex education in
the United States until about forty years ago was non-existent. Young
women and men learned about sex in locker rooms. Women were
subjected to a constant tirade or warnings about getting pregnant,
picking up a venereal disease or "being wronged" by men.
Everyone knew that "holding hands was the first step to getting
pregnant." Women could not even think about the pathways to
abortion without terrible anxiety. Then, of course, an abortion was not
easy to come by. Frequently, it involved traveling to another country
where abortion laws were less strict.
Again, we start at the beginning. The adolescent notion of erections is
that any real man should be able to get an erection any time of the day
or night without much provocation. This myth persists, in spite of
considerable evidence to the contrary, and it lurks in the mind of most
seniors. With age, however, erections generally occur only at the right
time and place, and with the right partner.
When counseling couples with sexual dysfunction it
is easy to determine that sex is the first element of the relationship
that suffers when there is a breakdown in communication. When couples
start to repair things, sex is the last element to return to the
relationship. When one or both members of a pair are troubled with
depression or stress then sex becomes almost impossible.
A second generalization is that men are quite
willing to accept all of the responsibility for failure to get an
erection. A more useful answer can be found by tracking the interaction
between a man and woman. We look for behaviors that facilitate or impede
the growth of intimacy.
Women learn early in life how to turn men off. If
they are tired, stressed or just plain uninterested in sex, most women
know how to put a quick end to sexual overtures. Men also know how to do
this with a partner who is more sexually active than they are. So, once
these problems are out of the way, where is the pathway to sexual
activity? The world is full of men and woman who feel inadequate about
their sexual ability. More often than not it is the partner who is
turning them off in some subtle way. See
The Menopause Experience
As always, the first
step is open, intimate discussion. Both people have to show some
interest in improving their sex life. These discussions must focus on
such subjects as "what can I do to please you more?" and vice-versa.
Some couples have never had such conversations. One partner gets
sexually active and the other just goes along to get it over with. It is
easy to see that sexual dysfunction is quite common when things go on
this way. Women who just go along also have great difficulty in reaching
a satisfying orgasm.
If a couple can't work their way through all of
this because of embarrassment, lack of knowledge, discomfort, or
preoccupation with illness, then they should think about getting
good-quality professional help. This step will at least open the way to
Most sex manuals will advise couples not to make
an effort to strive for satisfying sex too quickly. They suggest that
the partners start learning to enjoy physical and emotional intimacy and
sensual pleasure without necessarily proceeding to full intercourse, and
see what develops. This is generally good advice. However, the climate
of the relationship must allow for each partner to be able to say
"I like it when you do this", or "I don't like you doing
that", or "give me a massage all over", or "What
would you like me to do?" In a surprising number of cases, making
the effort to develop the relationship, improve communication, and
explore ways of pleasing each other leads to satisfying sex.
Striving for sensual satisfaction is a good place to start. The right
music, the right perfume, the right lighting and all of the other
pleasurable smells, touches and visual sensation helps a lot. If
sometimes this whole thing sounds like a big production, well it is.
Unfortunately, if sexual interest has declined over a period of time
then it takes as lot of effort and time to get things back in gear.
It is easy to forget the rituals of courtship. One
or both members of pair can start with little presents from time to time
and remembering what the partner likes for entertainment and enjoyment.
Find the right foods to prepare or the right restaurant to make a
reservation. All of these little things help to create a climate for
Many couples report that living out fantasies is
very sexually exciting. For example, a man goes to a bar and soon, a
woman comes in. He goes through all of the motions of "picking
up" an unattached woman, who is in fact his wife. Both people can
really enjoy this. It takes a little work to recall sexual fantasies
or invent new ones that are sexually stimulating and then figure out how
to put them in action.
Unfortunately, if a relationship has deteriorated
to the point where there is very little affection or caring between the
partners, there is need for some more general discussion. The
conversation can build around "What can I do to be a better person
for you?" If nothing of value comes out of such a discussion, both
people have to question why they stay in the relationship.
Many partners in relationships are quite
comfortable without sex. The couple know each other well, enjoy being
together, and one or both of them know that they don't want to live
alone, or face the family, children and community after a separation.
Also, there is always someone there to call on in time of trouble or
illness. Also, neither of them wants to be on the open market and go
through the process of learning again how to act as a single person with
other seniors. Separation would lead, to religious, financial, and
estate problems, and so on. Relationships like this can continue
indefinitely, until something happens that causes a reevaluation.
Some couples arrive at the notion that each
partner should be free to pursue sexual activity outside of the
relationship. This kind of decision relieves a lot of pressure. Both men
and women seek out younger partners and often same-sex partners.
Actually, second marriages tend to be better than first marriages except
they are shorter.
There are a host of
other issues that contribute to sexual dysfunction. Age differences
between partners become more important as a couple ages. Religious and
long established ethical constraints prevent people from speaking
easily, or considering options in their relationship.
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