Relationships & Romance: The Shift Between The Sheets

Shiftbetweensheets.jpgRemember the honeymoon, when you couldn’t keep your hands off each oth-er’s hot little bodies? A lot can change after decades of doing it. Like your libido. Or your stamina. Not to mention your not-so-toned thighs. But does that mean you gotta stay sexless in suburbia? Noway, say the experts. Case in point: the 91-year-old patient of Ottawa sex therapist Sue McGarvie — and his 87-year-old wife. “They’re still getting it on,” says McGarvie. “If you have a good attitude about it, everybody can keep having sex until they take you away in a box.”

It may just be a matter of understanding what’s changed and how you can compensate.

Your Changed Body
Some days, it can feel as though your body’s betraying you. Vaginal dryness, erectile dysfunction — yikes! These are common but most unwelcome signs of middle age and post-menopausal life.Then there’s the lessening libido: both aging men and post-menopausal women may experience a drop in testosterone, a.k.a. the horniness hormone. But a simple tube of lube can help with vaginal dryness. And the range of treatments for erectile dysfunction have exploded in recent years, no pun intended.Your doctor or urologist can prescribe a self-injected medication — it’s not as unpalatable as it sounds — or one of the ever-popular PDE-5 inhibitors such as Viagra or Cialis. For both sexes, if your hormone levels are off, hormone therapy may be a solution.

Certain chronic health conditions that crop up with age can also affect what goes on in the bedroom. Arthritis, for example, may make certain sexual positions painful. Diabetes can cause nerve damage, affecting your body’s response to sexual stimulation. Depression may lessen desire. People with heart disease often have poorer blood flow to the various parts that matter. And the salt in the wound? “A lot of medications used to
treat those conditions can have a detrimental effect on sexual function,” says Dr. Susan Atkinson, a family physician at the Halifax Sexual Health Centre. “They can affect how blood flows into the genital area, which can affect erection or women’s sexual response.”

But sex can go on. “For some people, it may mean changing what they’ve traditionally thought of as sexual activity,” says Atkinson. “There are ways to be intimate that don’t necessarily rely on penetration. Often, the people who make those changes can have sex lives that are quite fulfilling for them.”

McGarvie suggests trying out new experiences, whether it’s oral sex or toys, to take you to new heights (she recommends the We-Vibe, “If you have a sense of humour and you communicate, you’ll realize that it’s not as scary as you think.”

Your Changed Lifestyle

Your body isn’t the only thing that’s changed over the years. Your lifestyle may be vastly different, too. And for
some folks, that’s liberating. The kids have moved out, so sex on every surface in the house is back on the table, so to speak. Retirement may create opportunities for long lie-ins, instead of cutting the cuddling short for an early breakfast meeting. Plus, any concerns about pregnancy are gone.

“The challenge is to look at it as a new life cycle in the marriage, as something exciting,” says Gary Meiers, a registered psychologist in Edmonton. “This is an opportunity to learn more about each other and yourself.” Of course, making conversation about making whoopee isn’t always easy for this generation, which may have grown up with sexual taboos. Watching sensual films and reading books on sexuality are a couple of ways to open up those discussions.

A changed lifestyle can also be a source of stress. With retirement might come a drop in income, leading to financial worries. Or maybe there are aging parents to care for or boomerang kids to fret about. “A lot of baby boomers are doing the sandwich generation,” says McGarvie. “If you’re overly stressed, you’re not sexually interested.” But stressful events happen at all stages of life, and dealing with stress in healthy ways — like making time for yourself and your partner and learning to relax — can help keep it out of your bed.

Your Changed Relationship

If rolling over and saying goodnight happens a lot more often than a good roll in the hay, it may be time to ex-
amine your relationship outside of the bedroom. If relationship troubles are overlooked, symptoms like vaginal dryness can be mistaken for physiological problems that aren’t really there. Don’t assume that because you aren’t aroused, it means something is wrong with your body. Sometimes, couples don’t realize
they’ve become more distant over time, Meiers says. “The thought of intimacy is not even there.” Couples therapy can help rekindle the relationship. So can scheduling non-intimate time together. It’s hard to be sexual when some of the other important pieces of the partnership — supporting each other emotionally, co-operating with the housework, agreeing on financial matters — are out of place. So freshening up all dimensions of your relationship, not just the ones between the sheets, can give a lift to your libido.

And if the aforementioned arthritis gets in the way? Find an activity that’s easier on the body but tantalizing, like checking out the love boutique together, or signing up for a sex seminar.

“It’s more about attitude. You’ve got to try new things,” says McGarvie. “And you’ll keep it sizzling.”

–Lisa Bendall