Bridging Body, Mind, & Spirit: How to Get What You Want Out of Sex
Let’s talk about sex: It’s a hot topic on television, in movies, and online. In addition to all the other steamy details, we want to know who’s having it and how often. When it comes to women and men in or above their 50s, talking about sex has never been more important—and can be the pathway to a healthy, satisfying, very sexy part of life.
For many, middle age and beyond is a time ripe with change that far surpasses sexual activity or desire. Post-menopausal women experience transformation at so many levels: hormones can rage, then wane; libidos often require more connection and communication; relationships that once seemed on solid ground may undergo redefinition and, in some cases, end. For men in relationships with women at this point in their lives, there is new territory to navigate within the relationship. Many men experience their own physical and emotional changes that can be challenging.
To put it in perspective, sex at any point in life is much more than a biological urge. It is a delicate dance between body, mind, and spirit. The more a person can understand each of these aspects, the more they can be in the driver’s seat of sexual power.
Change is never easy, but the physical changes that unfold during the fourth and fifth decade of life can seem frightening to women and often shake their sense of identity to its core. Add to that the common demands of motherhood and marriage, and a normal sexual drive can tank and stay there.
It’s more than just hormones that change. Dr. Christiane Northrup, author of The Wisdom of Menopause: Creating Physical and Emotional Health and Healing During the Change, says that in addition to a hormonal shift that puts an end to childbearing, “our bodies—and, specifically, our nervous systems—are being, quite literally, rewired.” She continues to explain that there is a lot more to it than “raging hormones.” A woman in menopause often finds herself at a crossroads of life, torn between the old ways she has always known and new ways she has just begun to dream of.
On the physical side of things, most women are familiar with expectations: hot flashes, vaginal dryness, forgetfulness, a thickening belly, low libido, irritation, and exhaustion. Add decades of raising a family, marriage or divorce, and increased financial worries, and is it any wonder that sex can just be one more item on the “to do list”? Not to deny the often difficult physical transitions that do often take place for many people at this point in their lives, what would happen if, instead of simply accepting it as fate, we rejected this common cultural thinking? And how would relationships shift toward true and deep connection, if both parties knew how to accept and embrace the mystery of one’s entire sexual life?
Dr. Mario Martinez, a leading clinical neuropsychologist who lectures worldwide on the impact of cultural beliefs on health and longevity, states the following in regards to aging and cultural beliefs:
“While growing older only requires the passage of time, aging is significantly affected by the cultural history we embody. Biology is sculpted within the cultural portals we choose to enter, and healthy longevity is enhanced by the resilience we learn from our challenges.”
How does this relate to aging, and sex? Simple: People are notorious for being susceptible to what others think, or what Dr. Martinez refers to as “cultural editors.” We can learn valuable lessons from others. “But whether they are unpleasant or joyful,” Dr. Martinez says, “we must choose what to incorporate and discard from those lessons when we move beyond accepted culture.”
In other words, don’t believe everything you hear or think. Dr. Martinez advises all of us to take important lessons from the centenarians he’s been studying for decades. Their secret? Defy what doesn’t work and practice a middle-way approach to mindfulness that infuses the day with pleasurable rituals.
If sex has lost its luster and become just one more chore—like a load of laundry or sink full of dishes—that goes undone turn it into a pleasurable ritual. To do this takes inner knowledge and courage. Sex is an important part of life and there are surprisingly simple approaches to put the bounce back in your step and bed.
Men and women can take control of this, and for women, the first step to a reinvigorated sexual life is to claim what Dr. Northrup calls every woman’s sexual birthright: a fulfilling sex life. She enthusiastically advocates Dr. Martinez’s worthy defiance by stating that “your perception of yourself is what has the biggest impact on your experience of sexuality, and this has little do with your age. If you believe you’re sexy and sensual, you will be, no matter what your age or physical condition.”
She advises that women embark on releasing long held feelings of body-centered shame that can kill the libido. Extended periods of “body love,” an exercise that guides women to embrace beauty, can be a first step toward weakening that shame. Men can also participate in this process, challenging their own sense of their male-ness—and who doesn’t benefit from self-love?
Beyond thinking differently about sex and aging, we also have to change how we talk, which is the next step toward a great sex life (regardless of age). Say what you want and say what you mean. Just as important as what to say, it’s critical to learn how to say what you want. Maci Daye, Licensed Professional Counselor and creator of Passion and Presence®, a mindfulness-based sexual enrichment process for couples, coaches hundreds of couples and individuals on mindful sex. It all starts with communication. However, while communication in general is important, poor communication can rupture relationships even more than keeping quiet. To help with this, Daye offers the following tips for positive sexual communication strategies:
- Start with something positive This creates the openness to hear more. It’s always better to acknowledge what you like a lot and ask for more of that, or ask to build from what already works. For example:
- I love that you spend a lot of time kissing my neck and shoulders. I would love it if you took as much time to kiss my inner thighs.
- We have a beautiful groove of turning each other on with oral sex. I wonder if we could also try X (fill in any activity, role play, and/or seduction technique).
- Think about your intention Do you want to clear something or repair a trust breach that is holding you back from being open and responsive? Include that in your invitation to talk. For example:
- I notice I’m still holding onto X and it’s coming between us. I want to clear it so I can open my heart and my body again. Can we talk about it some more? I don’t want to blame you. I just need helping putting it to rest.
- Communicate non-verbally too
Take your partner’s hand and show him or her what you want. You can moan and smile and make eye contact, adding, “That’s great, don’t stop.” Or “I love that, maybe stroke me a little more slowly.”
Daye shares that by sharing your erotic imagination, you can open up the sexual floodgates and pathways to “erotic empathy,” a term she attributes to author Tammy Nelson’s book Getting the Sex You Want.
Sex doesn’t have to end with either an orgasm or ejaculation. Afterplay, that glowing state we often feel after a deep sexual experience or connection, can be another important opportunity to deepen the connection of intimacy with self and one’s partner, as well as a time to practice mindfulness, compassion, and acceptance. This is especially important as women age. Take positive body talk to the bedroom and practice it with a partner who may be going through his or her own aging issues. This will deepen and extend the connection between a couple, as well as strengthen your own re-emerging sexual self.
Julie Colwell PhD, a psychotherapist with more than two decades experience working with couples through difficult transitions, says clients say communication is one of their biggest issues. But by two or three sessions, couples bring up sex, which is what they really meant. As women age, in relationships and as unique selves, Dr. Colwell says, “The big explosion in self can lead to an entirely new direction in sex, self, and relationship.” She works with her clients to explore “the possibility of two equals coming together to form a form of energy that is not so hormonally, or lustfully driven.” Rather, it is two people coming together to form an authentic connection based on truth-telling, which is a surefire way to increase a lagging sex drive. “Being willing to say the truth opens up energy,” Colwell says. Especially sexual energy.
Colwell suggests people ask themselves this important question: “Am I willing to say what I want and say what I don’t want, away from blame and the victim stance?”
The beauty of aging is that—if approached with loving kindness, humor, and a new vision for life—your 50s can be a vibrant entrance to a new relationship with all things that add up to you, including and especially sex. Maci Daye offers this sexual wisdom for how to make the most of this time. If you’re lucky, middle age is just the beginning of a beautiful and long-lasting relationship with the most important person in your life: yourself.
“Aging is a whole thing unto itself … acknowledging that our bodies are changing and that we can’t perform like we were in our 20s, 30s, and 40s opens the possibility for discovering what’s possible now,” Daye says. She explains that the path to pleasure and connection happens through listening to our bodies and staying present. So rather than recreate experiences from the past she suggests people start from where they are now. This “takes the pressure off and invites more creativity,” she says. “This is the gift of mindful sex.”
Getting older does not mean the end of sex. Keep Dr. Northrup’s advice on how to have what she refers to as “ageless sex,” a philosophy that unites body, mind, and spirit.
Whether you’re re-igniting a once vibrant and pleasurable sex life or starting from scratch, this time in your life is wide open. If you believe you have choices and are willing to take control of your own sexual destiny, great sex is possible at any age!
Lisa Trank began writing after many years of being a performing artist – an actress and singer – and is happy to be bringing those years of crafting characters and musical storytelling into her writing life. She's a former recipient of a Rocky Mountain Women’s Institute Fellowship in poetry. Currently, she's completing her first young adult novel, entitled Tangled Chimes, a multi-generational, slightly fantastical, coming-of-age story. Her work has appeared in Kveller, MindBodyGreen, Salon, and the upcoming "So Glad They Told Me," an anthology by the HerStories Project. Her story, "1939 Plymouth, or the Bootlegger's Driver," was a finalist in the 2015 Saturday Evening Post Great American Fiction Contest. She's the proud mother of three wonderful teen-age daughters, is married to her best friend, and lives in Longmont, Colorado, with a constant view of the Rocky Mountains.