Sex, aging, and why making assumptions about what some other person wants or regards as ‘normal’ can be psychologically dangerous.
Q. I’m having trouble mentally getting ready for a new relationship. My friend and I have parted and I am now single. About six years ago I had a lumpectomy and nine lymph nodes removed, followed by 16 radiation treatments. Two years after the surgeries I found intercourse had become extremely painful. I’ve tried natural lubrication products but they don’t work for me. I can’t take any hormones or products which encourage hormone production because of the cancer. I am 65 and have always enjoyed sex, but now I’m afraid to date because men want to have normal sexual relations. Any suggestions?
Robin, Kelowna, B.C.
A. What do you mean by normal? That word set off alarm bells for both me and Anne Katz, a Winnipeg-based sexuality counsellor who specializes in the connection between cancer and sexuality issues.
“There is no such thing as normal – at any age,” she insists. “We make all these assumptions – and we always think people are having more sex than we are. Making assumptions about what some other person wants or regards as ‘normal’ puts you in a place that can be psychologically dangerous. And men in their 60s and 70s have their own fears, assumptions and misconceptions issues about sex. They too have changes related to aging.”
Dr. Katz hears about them all the time with older male patients, many of whom think their female partners are most interested in “rock hard erections,” when in fact what interests a lot of women even more is companionship, attention, affection, kissing and cuddling. “There is some truth to the saying that women give sex to get love and men give love to get sex, but ultimately we all want to be loved and respected and told that we’re special. Really, that’s it in a nutshell.”
As for your lubrication issue, Dr. Katz also wonders what you mean by ‘natural products’. If you’ve been using something like olive oil or coconut oil, she advises you to stop. Since that is not their intended use you are running the risk of creating other problems. Instead, she recommends using a water-based product called Astroglide Natural. There are lots of different products on the market, including oil-based and silicone-based, but she thinks water-based are best and many of the options are available right at your local drug store. You no longer have to order them online or go shopping at a sex shop. If the lubricant doesn’t help, which sometimes happens, she encourages you to talk openly to your family doctor about options.
The other issue you need to be considering is safe sex. “The incidence of HIV, AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections in people over 55 has grown exponentially and continues to grow at an alarming rate,” says Dr. Katz. She strongly advocates condom use until both partners can verify the other’s sexual health, even if having that initial conversation is difficult.
Her bottom line advice? “Cut yourself some slack. Good sex has many forms, but it is always dependent on good communication.”
Send Diane a brief description of your dilemma, along with your first name and where you live, to [email protected]
A professional journalist for more than 25 years, Diane Sewell has written for some of the top newspapers and magazines in Canada and is a baby boomer herself. Her new blog “Boomerangst: Turning Dilemmas into Discoveries” is interactive with readers and focuses on life issues – like aging, dating, second marriages, sex, death, family and fashion. Diane will use her expertise to find the right expert to help solve your predicament, unearthing kernels of truth and quickly getting to the heart of the issue.
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