Assisted Loving: Shaking things up

By Ginger Manley | Posted: Wednesday May 30, 2012

Dear Ginger,

Okay, we've been reading your column, and we attended your lecture series, and now we need some specifics. What are some things we can do that won't kill us and aren't so out there that the neighbors will call the police? In other words, how can we shake things up at our stage of life?

Melvin and Carol


Dear Melvin and Carol,

Thanks for giving me an opportunity to expand upon what I wrote in last month’s column (“Assisted Loving: Communication is Key to Better Love Life,” Mature Lifestyles, May 2012). I’m laughing out loud to read your question, partially because I think it will resonate with so many folks and partially because I think you have already started to “shake things up” just by asking. Remember, silence is the greatest risk to sexual well-being, and you two are obviously not being silent, either between yourselves or now with the readers of this column. Remember also that sexual activity at this stage of life is for recreation—if you’re not having fun, then change is way overdue.

Recently I had the pleasure of reading several books which were nominated for the annual “best new book” award given annually by AASECT (American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists), the credentialing body of professional sexologists. This year’s winning book is Naked at our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex (Seal Press, 2011) by Joan Price. According to the back cover, Naked “spares no detail in addressing the challenges and joys of pursuing love and sex late in life….(and) covers everything that the over-sixty set needs to know about living a more fulfilling sensual life.” Much as I have done in this column, Price uses actual questions and stories from a wide variety of seniors and she has solicited input from several sexuality experts, so this is a comprehensive book. While in the process of writing the book, Price’s husband, who she describes as the love of her life, died from the effects of several kinds of cancer. As a part of her writing, she shares the agony of being alone and the beginning regrowth of her sensual and sexual self with a voice that will speak to millions of people.

Over the next few columns, I am going to use material from this book to give some specifics that may work for many of you. The author does not hold back—what she writes is extremely important for senior sexuality but up until now such detail has not been a part of the day-to-day dialogue for most people. Mature Lifestyles probably cannot publish all the specifics with the degree of description that Price has done, so I urge you to purchase the book and read it from the source. You can also go to Price’s blog,www.nakedatourage.com, to participate in ongoing conversations about sex and aging with her and elders worldwide.

In her first chapter, Price covers some of the topics I have recently also covered—talking, using props to ease painful joints, using appropriate lubrication, and the challenges to sexual function that come with age or illness. The chapter concludes with a lovely story from 87-year old Harry, who describes re-inventing his love-life with his wife of over 60 years, after having gone through “courtship, marriage, open marriage, raising a family, remote marriage (including his having casual affairs), and now courtship again….Getting an erection at my age requires the cooperation of my wife, and I am still working on getting her to touch my penis…It takes endearments, kissing, and affection, as well as time together talking over the past….going through our memories about when we met and how we got to know each other. It was enough then to lead to intimacy, and it still is.” (p. 25)

In other words, Melvin and Carol, there are lots of possibilities for change—for shaking things up—if both of you are willing to move a little out of the familiar places where you’ve been. Senior sexuality doesn’t just happen. We have to be intentional about it and it requires planning, something most of us could never imagine in our youth when our hormones signaled us for readiness and the most planning we might have done was to get the children to bed early or set the alarm for middle of the night pleasures.

So here’s my suggestion list:

  1. Sit down with each other and talk about what’s working and what’s not working. Ask yourself “what would I like to have happen that’s not happening? What is happening that I don’t want to have happen?” Are you having trouble getting or keeping an erection, Melvin? Are you having trouble feeling aroused or becoming lubricated, Carol? Are you bored with the same old repertoire? Do you need to spice things up with more intense touching, like giving each other sensual massages or using sex toys to heighten sensations? Make separate lists for each of you then share your lists and ask the other one to withhold judgment and just to listen.
  2. Are you concerned that there may be some physical causes for anything that interferes with your sexual experiences? If the answer to this is yes, take the concern to your health care provider and if that person ignores or brushes you off, find another provider who will listen and offer help. In these times, sexual issues are just not so complicated that someone in the medical community won’t be able to offer help—be relentless in seeking a diagnosis and intervention. Most of the time, the problem is not “just in your head” as so many folks have been told.
  3. Out of your discussion find one thing to change—it doesn’t need to be big and certainly doesn’t need to be illegal. On more than one occasion when I was in practice as a sex therapist, I helped folks find things like keeping the lights on or getting completely nude outside the covers which they had never before done. Maybe you are way beyond these, but there must be something new—showering together, being completely in the role of receiver of sensual touch, reading erotic literature—that you two can agree to try.

Next month, I will continue with more suggestions from Price’s book—and a few of my own. Stay tuned!

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