Relationships & Romance: 7 Pro Secrets to Intimacy



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.

It’s a problem that runs both ways, she explains. Older patients may also feel uncomfortable discussing their concerns, especially if the health-care professional seems reticent or embarrassed, which belies a growing desire among aging Canadians to live open and informed sex lives. As Silcox notes, “Older patients/clients … are often relieved to be able to discuss their sexuality as it affects their relationships and quality of life.”

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.


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.

“Unfortunately,” she says, “older people tend to limit their sexual expression and their sexual experiences as a result.” Sex is good for your health no matter your age. Nurture your sexuality by finding doctors and clinics that “will assume that you want to continue enjoying a healthy and active sex life and will help you make medical decisions accordingly.”


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.”

The North American image of beauty to which people must subscribe in order to be desirable can have a damaging effect on those who don’t fit. Nambiar explains: “[Our research] found that people had a really difficult time trying to fit in and, in order to be accepted and wanted and needed, people would do whatever they felt was necessary to subscribe to that program, which could mean risky behaviour.” Regardless of whether you’re dating or in a committed relationship, there’s a “need to have an honest discussion with whomever you choose to be partnered with and find out their sexual history — in all communities.”


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.”


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.”


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.”

Physiologically, we need sex to prevent prostate problems and vaginal atrophy; the endorphins that accompany orgasm and arousal have myriad psychological benefits; and emotionally, sex strengthens our connections to one another and heightens our sense of well-being. “Besides,” Ren says, “research tells us that most of us do not stop having sex as we get old, and as with everything else, we get better at it with practice.”


Merryn Gott is a professor of health sciences at the University of Auckland, N.Z. A pioneer in the field of sex and aging, Gott published the first interview-based study exploring older peoples’ views of the role and importance of sexuality in their lives.

“The research I have done,” says Gott, “has led me to conclude that sex after 40, or indeed 80, is not so different from sex before 40.” Regardless of age, sex is defined and valued differently by different people. “One advantage of aging,” she points out, “can be an acceptance of this diversity and a letting go of anxieties about ‘what is normal.’ ” Gott stresses that sexual problems can be experienced at any age, “and being older shouldn’t be a reason for not seeking help. It is as appropriate to seek help for a sexual problem at 85 as it is at 25. It is also as important to maintain a responsible attitude to being safe. See, not so different after all!”