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The physical transformations your body undergoes as you age also have a major influence on your sexuality. Declining hormone levels and changes in neurological and circulatory functioning may lead to sexual problems such as erectile dysfunction or vaginal pain.
Such physical changes often mean that the intensity of youthful sex may give way to more subdued responses during middle and later life. But the emotional byproducts of maturity — increased confidence, better communication skills, and lessened inhibitions — can help create a richer, more nuanced, and ultimately satisfying sexual experience. However, many people fail to realize the full potential of later-life sex. By understanding the crucial physical and emotional elements that underlie satisfying sex, you can better navigate problems if they arise.
Treating sexual problems is easier now than ever before. Medications and professional sex therapists are there if you need them. But you may be able to resolve minor sexual issues by making a few adjustments in your lovemaking style. Here are some things you can try at home.
- Educate yourself. Plenty of good self-help materials are available for every type of sexual issue. Browse the Internet or your local bookstore, pick out a few resources that apply to you, and use them to help you and your partner become better informed about the problem. If talking directly is too difficult, you and your partner can underline passages that you particularly like and show them to each other.
- Give yourself time. As you age, your sexual responses slow down. You and your partner can improve your chances of success by finding a quiet, comfortable, interruption-free setting for sex. Also, understand that the physical changes in your body mean that you'll need more time to get aroused and reach orgasm. When you think about it, spending more time having sex isn't a bad thing; working these physical necessities into your lovemaking routine can open up doors to a new kind of sexual experience.
- Use lubrication. Often, the vaginal dryness that begins in perimenopause can be easily corrected with lubricating liquids and gels. Use these freely to avoid painful sex — a problem that can snowball into flagging libido and growing relationship tensions. When lubricants no longer work, discuss other options with your doctor.
- Maintain physical affection. Even if you're tired, tense, or upset about the problem, engaging in kissing and cuddling is essential for maintaining an emotional and physical bond.
- Practice touching. The sensate focus techniques that sex therapists use can help you re-establish physical intimacy without feeling pressured. Many self-help books and educational videos offer variations on these exercises. You may also want to ask your partner to touch you in a manner that he or she would like to be touched. This will give you a better sense of how much pressure, from gentle to firm, you should use.
- Try different positions. Developing a repertoire of different sexual positions not only adds interest to lovemaking but can also help overcome problems. For example, the increased stimulation to the G-spot that occurs when a man enters his partner from behind can help the woman reach orgasm.
- Write down your fantasies. This exercise can help you explore possible activities you think might be a turn-on for you or your partner. Try thinking of an experience or a movie that aroused you and then share your memory with your partner. This is especially helpful for people with low desire.
- Do Kegel exercises. Both men and women can improve their sexual fitness by exercising their pelvic floor muscles. To do these exercises, tighten the muscle you would use if you were trying to stop urine in midstream. Hold the contraction for two or three seconds, then release. Repeat 10 times. Try to do five sets a day. These exercises can be done anywhere — while driving, sitting at your desk, or standing in a checkout line. At home, women may use vaginal weights to add muscle resistance. Talk to your doctor or a sex therapist about where to get these and how to use them.
- Try to relax. Do something soothing together before having sex, such as playing a game or going out for a nice dinner. Or try relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises or yoga.
- Use a vibrator. This device can help a woman learn about her own sexual response and allow her to show her partner what she likes.
- Don't give up. If none of your efforts seem to work, don't give up hope. Your doctor can often determine the cause of your sexual problem and may be able to identify effective treatments. He or she may suggest you consider a sex therapist who can help you explore issues that may be standing in the way of a fulfilling sex life.
Image: jacoblund/Getty Images
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Sexuality in Midlife and Beyond
The physical transformations the body undergoes with age have a major influence on sexuality. This Special Health Report, Sexuality in Midlife and Beyond, will take you through the stages of sexual response and explain how aging affects each. You’ll also learn how chronic illnesses, common medications, and emotional issues can influence your sexual capabilities. Finally, you’ll find a detailed discussion of various medical treatments, counseling, and self-help techniques to address the most common types of sexual problems.
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