Taking time to learn to love yourself

By Ginger Manley | Posted: Tuesday October 1, 2013

August 2013

Dear Ginger:
Almost everything you write about has to do with couples, but I am not a part of a couple and maybe never will be. Do you have any advice for how a single person, growing older, can have a more rich sexual experience? By the way, I am not interested in one-night stands.
Gwendolyn


Hi Gwendolyn:
This is a great question and one about which I am frequently asked in the talks and classes I give for people over fifty. I wish, however, you had said more about your particular circumstances, like your age and whether you are single by choice or by chance. Whether you have ever been in a coupleship and how that went for you. What your life situation is--healthy, living independently, good outlook on life, able to get around, have family, friends, and interests that keep you busy, or whether you are coping with issues in any or several of these areas.
With little to go on, I am going to try to be general, and then I will move more into some specifics. While it is somewhat uncommon, it is not unusual for women in current society to remain single for the entirety of their lives. Some of these women have never wanted to be coupled and others have never found the right match for themselves. Others have had a love that did not work out and they have moved on but another opportunity has not developed. Often, when asked, they report being highly satisfied with their lives, especially noting how much they value the freedom to come and go as they wish.
Some older single women spent their adult lives caring for parents. Some have had busy and productive careers. Some have raised children, as either a birth mother or an adoptive parent, and they have very busy lives keeping up with the activities of successive generations. Everyone's story is different, so I am at a loss to comment more on your situation or to offer advice, Gwendolyn, without more information.
Instead, I will talk about ways seniors in general can enrich their sexual experience. First is through self-love--the rich, rewarding, but sometimes neglected experience of putting oneself first and doing something each day that shows you value yourself. Women tend to have strengths in nurturing others, but often they do not learn or practice self-nurturing behaviors. A nurturing action can be internal, like affirming yourself--literally telling yourself "my body is good enough," or "I deserve to be happy enough just for today." Sometimes it is through an action outside you. like exercising and eating healthy meals so your insides are physically nurtured.
Second it is though giving and receiving healthy touch. People who live alone are often touch deprived, so it can be enormously helpful to get regular full body massages or manicures or pedicures. If the latter is not easy with a tight budget, buying good quality nail products and giving oneself these treats is also helpful. There are ample opportunities within communities to volunteer to work with children who may also be touch deprived or with animals in shelters--both of these groups allow healthy touch to be given and received and are enormously helpful in replenishing touch deficits.
Moving more into the sexual or erotic component of life, single persons can experiment with or practice self-love in several direct sexual way. Some women learn early in life what is arousing for them and what kinds of activities from themselves or from another person is likely to feel good in a sexual situation. Others, however, have never had the opportunity or taken the time to learn their own sexual road map. The first step on this journey is to become acquainted with the location of all the sexual landmarks, full-body as well as genital ones. Growing up you may have learned that everything necessary for a good sexual experience happens between the legs, but this is not true. In sex therapy terms, the skin in the largest sex organ we have and the brain is the most important one. Those are obviously easy to locate, but so are others, like breasts, wrists, toes, hands, ears, mouths, and thighs, all of which have nerve endings that are highly arousable. Maybe you have heard of women who can become fully orgasmic from having their ears nuzzled. Can you imagine that experience for yourself?
When was the last time you took a good look at what is between your legs--your vulva, vagina, and other structures? It may not be as easy as when you were younger to find a comfortable position to take a tour of one's genitals, but with some creativity and some pillows and a mirror, most of us can do so. If your eyesight is not so good anymore, get a mirror that has both magnification and lighting.
If this is your first visit to this part of your body, get a good book with pictures--I like Sex Matters for Women (Guilford Press,2012). Unless you have had some kind of radical or reconstructive surgery, you still have pubic hair (may be greyer or thinner now), outer and inner labia (may be less firm than thirty years ago), clitoral tip (which may or may not be visible, depending on whether it has adhesions holding it under its hood), the vaginal opening (may be drier, less elastic, and more pale), the vagina (can't see very far into it without help, like with the use of a plastic speculum which your gynecologist will probably let you bring home after your next visit if you ask nicely), and a cervix, uterus, and ovaries (all of which you probably can't see.) You also have an area on the anterior (belly-button) side of your vagina which is highly arousable if stimulated directly. We call this the G-spot..
Do you know how you like for each of these areas to be touched, caressed, and stroked? If not, these are experiences you can practice and learn from on your own. At all ages, it is important for a woman to know these things about herself both for her own self-pleasure and to help educate a potential mate if that situation were to happen. Have you ever used a vibrator to stimulate yourself? As we age, many people find they need the extra stimulation from such a device both externally and internally in order to awaken those nerve endings. One caution here--because aging skin tends to be thinner and dryer, you may need to use some nice body oils to lessen any friction.
Some women enjoy erotica to help maximize sexual feelings. If you have not tried this or it has been a while, spend some time in a bookstore or at an online book retailer getting acquainted with what's out there. The phenomenal success of Fifty Shades opened the door on erotic literature for many of today's women, just as Peyton Place and The Story of O did for an earlier generation.
So, Gwendolyn, maybe some of these suggestions will be useful to you. Bottom line--give yourself permission to love yourself and to give and receive self-pleasure, just because it feels good, with no expectation that you are preparing for a coupled relationship. You deserve it!

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