Relationships & Romance: 7 Pro Secrets to Intimacy
BY: EVAN ROSSER
It may seem like a harmless way to avoid an uncomfortable subject, but the social stigma surrounding sex and aging can have harmful and lasting consequences for the 45-plus set.
“Health- and mental health-care professionals may not necessarily … feel comfortable talking with their older patients/clients about their sexual life,” says Susan Silcox, a social worker employed by St. Joseph’s Health Care in London, Ont.
According to Barry Worsfold, Zoomer’s resident sex expert, “The most important [thing] to learn about sex and aging is to be comfortable in and with our own sexuality.” So why the embarrassment? In the 15 years she’s spent writing about all aspects of human sexuality, Josey Vogels, syndicated sex columnist and author, has seen the extent to which, “aging and sexuality [are] marginalized at best, but more commonly just completely ignored.”
But things are changing. “Boomers who grew up in the ’60s and through the sexual revolution, free love and the birth of the Pill are now getting older and realizing that they don’t want their sexuality to suddenly disappear or be ignored.” Thankfully, for older Canadians looking for information about sex and sexuality, there are experts ready and waiting. We asked a number of them to provide some advice for maintaining a healthy, active sex life at 45 and beyond.
ON THE MYTH THAT SEXUAL INTEREST DECLINES AS WE AGE
Vogels takes it as a given that “most of us simply assume that interest in sex will decline as we age. Even if the mind is willing, the body won’t be able to keep up.” Yes, aging can cause physical changes that may affect your sexuality, but the effects of these changes are usually overstated.
ON PRACTISING SAFE SEX AT ANY AGE
Silcox advises anyone reentering the dating world to educate themselves about safe sex practices and ask questions about their partner’s sexual health. Questions you need to ask your partner: How many sexual partners have they had? Are they currently sexually active with anyone else? Do they practise safe sex? Have they been tested for a sexually transmitted infection (STI)?
“It’s a different dating world out there, than it was 30, 40, 50 years ago, when pregnancy may have been the primary concern,” she says. “Adults need to be proactive in protecting themselves and their partners.”
Devan Nambiar is the training and education co-ordinator for Rainbow Health Ontario, an organization that works to identify and address the broader health issues faced by LGBT communities across Ontario. Within the LGBT community, Nambiar says, “It’s important to recognize that [people] from different cultures or communities, especially as they age, are often not engaged in a discussion of safe sex.”
ON RE-ENTERING THE DATING WORLD
In 35 years as an Anglican priest — 27 as a pastor — David McKenzie identified a pressing need among those who sought his counsel for advice on sex and sexuality. In 2000, he left his ministry to set up a private counselling practice in the Vancouver area. One of the biggest issues when re-entering the dating world is to make sure you’ve “unloaded the baggage of the former relationship,” McKenzie says.
You have to allow the bulk of the grieving to unfold so you can move on. “Don’t try to replace that person,” he advises. Dating after 45 may be frustrating, he notes. “You’ll come across many people who’ve been hurt and become jaded. Don’t let that discourage you.”
ON SEX AS A MOTIVATION TO STAY HEALTHY
Alex McKay is the research co-ordinator of the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada (SIECCAN). He points out that, as you age, “there is a definite feedback loop between sexual vitality and physical conditioning.”
People who continue to value the sexual part of their lives have an added motivation to eat well and stay physically fit. Completing the loop, the “improved strength and cardio-vascular condition” afforded by a healthy diet and regular exercise “builds self-confidence and a sense of well-being, which tends to go hand-in-hand with increased desire for sexual activity.”
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF INTIMACY
Pega Ren is in private practice as a marriage and family counsellor specializing in sex therapy and is a regular contributor to the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy. “Young or old,” she says, “humans thrive on touch, and sex is a wonderful way to experience that touch.”