War of the Roses
If over the years your bedroom has become a battlefield, you must learn to negotiate desire through the ages.
What follows are real-life mid-fight words about a couple’s sexual impasse, lifted, with consent and in strictest anonymity, from a letter that a friend in despair sent to her husband.
Let’s call her Samantha. Both she and her husband are mid-50-something, very successful professionals. They have been together for six years; after the delectably flagrant passion of the honeymoon period, they hit a long, dry spell. She wants much more sex, and he wants much less. Things are, predictably, festering.
“I can’t express how important a healthy, vivid, thriving and exciting spontaneous passionate sex life is to me. I am not willing to live without it,” was Samantha’s opening salvo. Youch. Knee hits figurative groin, probably counter-productive. Samantha was blowing her cork after she realized he was doing anything – dishes, groceries, rebuilding the engine on his pet sports car with a whole Internet tinkering crew – to avoid having sex.
“There is a level of connection you achieve when you are that vulnerable with another human,” she continued, “and when you are pushing limits together. Sexual expression is fluid, and it is limitless. More creativity creates more desire. The more you do it, the more you want it, and the more potential you see there is to the shared experience. There is no replacement for it.”
Her husband responded, also predictably, given that he just had his nads bashed in, that he just didn’t have any interest in sex, let alone boundary-busting sex. His explanation, she relates, steam still coming out of her ears, was to write that he had just never really been interested in sex. Also, he was a bit worried his porn habit from his years as a bachelor had disassociated his desires from real-life outlets.
There is no sugarcoating the fact that aging has an effect on desire for everyone. But these effects are not guaranteed or consistent, nor are they fatal.
First of all, men reach their much-vaunted sexual peak in their teens and can remain both keen and sexually active till their 90s and beyond. Evolutionarily speaking, their sperm are still viable, so the impulse to sow them doesn’t fade. Though as with Samantha’s husband, that impulse is subject to distraction. Low T has become the latest prescription panacea, though new studies show some caution is needed. Some men have clinically diagnosable low testosterone, but large numbers of scrips, fuelled by heavy-rotation TV campaigns and the hope of a magic fountain of youth, are being written. There are risks you should discuss with your doctor, and it is important to note that taking external testosterone inhibits your body’s own production.
Women hit their sexual peak as their fertility wanes, in their late 30s and 40s because, in an evolutionary sense, they are programmed to try to get pregnant right up till the last moment of egg viability, and you have to try harder at that point. The onset of menopause may involve unpleasant symptoms, from dry membranes to libido dampening. Traditional hormone replacement therapy and, in some cases, testosterone supplementation can ease symptoms, but there are also risks so your doctor should be consulted here.
And beyond the normal pressures that roll in and out of the course of a life (grief, failure, injury and illness), we often don’t make time in our busy lives to nurture passion in long-term relationships.
And then there is the ugly question of how aging screws up our sense of our own bodies. There is no one who does not suffer the slings and arrows of time. Name your hangup: crow’s feet, cellulite, spare tire, ear hair. But these are precisely what you must leave at the bedroom door, arming yourself with the knowledge that you are quite simply (and quantifiably) way better at sex after 45. Enter Colorado-based Dr. David Schnarch, who wrote the all-time marital therapy test Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships in 1997. He is the dude who can give Samantha hope. Schnarch talks about the kind of desire “that comes from maturation rather than infatuation. It is one reason why I say cellulite and sexual potential are highly correlated.”
He continues: “If sex drive is the instinct that preserves the species, then eroticism is the experience of sexual pleasure for its own sake. It makes sex personal, electric and well, sexy. It’s about ‘where your head’s at’ more than what your genitals do or the shape your body is in.”