Starting Over With Relationships Can Take Work

sextherapistMaking love again after a long time alone can bring back the excitement of youth…as well as the fear anxiety.

Do you remember your first time?

The first time someone held your hand, whispered in your ear, or kissed you with more than just a perfunctory peck?

Nothing comes close to those first delicious sensations of sensual and sexual exploration. And nothing can quite match the scatterbrained, stomach-squeezing terror that accompanied it. Remember?

Perhaps you thought the thrill of charting the sexual unknown only happened once in life. Now, perhaps, you find yourself single again and starting over. Which prospect is more frightening — that a close encounter of the sexual kind can happen again with all its roller coaster fun and fear…or that it never will?

Relax. It can happen again. And if you’re lucky enough to have found someone special, be assured that rediscovering sex is like riding the proverbial bicycle. You don’t forget. But following your heart and your animal instincts instead of your expectations of how you should perform will really allow the animal in you to go wild…leading to pleasure for both you and your lover.

TINGLING

Janet Weiss, Ph.D., has been a sex therapist for 25 years. At the age of 71, the Stamford, Connecticut resident never thought she would need her professional training for herself and her new boyfriend.

After 40 years of marriage and 8 years of widowhood, Weiss never dreamed she’d be part of the single scene again. She had just about resigned herself to the fact that her sex life was over.

By a stroke of fate, she crossed paths with an old high-school boyfriend. As teenagers they had been lovers “from the neck up,” Weiss says, blushing. When they remet two years ago sparks flew, throwing both of them for a loop.

After hours of talking and reminiscing, Weiss says her old flame lightly touched her arm. That’s all it took. To her surprise, a wave of sensation surged through her. It was something she thought she’d never feel again.

“After the drink he put his arm around me and we started necking,” she says. “I realized how hungry I was for love and for somebody to hold me and touch me. Every fiber in me was alerted. I was tingling.”

THE SPIRIT IS WILLING, BUT THE FLESH….

Any fears Weiss had about how she would respond sexually vanished. She admits that being a sex therapist helped her to minimize the pressure she might ordinarily place on herself. When she began her new romance, she says she felt no inhibitions. Part of that had to do with the love between her and the man she has been with ever since. Part of it had to do with age. “What did I have to lose?” she says.

As Weiss found, sex the second time around can be every bit as titillating as it was during the skin-tingling days of adolescence. But as innuendo leads to crescendo, it can also become a source of tension.

For example, Weiss says her companion, a widower who had been inactive for 25 years, was self-conscious about his ability to achieve and maintain an erection. Although, she adds with a grin, he knows exactly how to please her.

Men who have been inactive are especially prone to bouts of performance anxiety, Weiss says. Age alone — not to mention self-consciousness — makes it difficult to achieve and maintain an erection, she says.

As the body ages, sexual functioning changes, explains Stella Mostel, Ph.D., a sex therapist and lecturer at New York Medical College.

Physiological reactions that took seconds during adolescence require a little more coaxing, time, and patience, Mostel says. For women, a sign of physiological change might be thinner vaginal lubrication or a tightened vaginal opening, both of which could make intercourse uncomfortable, Mostel says.

Lee F., 57, a New York book collector, spent 15 single years between her second marriage, which ended in divorce, and her third marriage, which took place last year.

“When I hit menopause I was all kinds of uncomfortable,” she says. The natural thinning of her own lubrication made intercourse painful, she says. “Emotionally I could feel it aging me,” she says. “I said to myself, `So that’s why people get old.”

But Lee found that a simple over-the-counter lubricant solved the problem. However, dealing with physiological change is not that easy for a man. Locker room culture can foster an attitude that measures virility by the quality of his erection, Mostel says.

The bottom line is that men need more assurance, says Mary Ann, a 51-year-old divorcee from New Jersey. Mary Ann feels like she is going through her first sexual revolution.

“This is fabulous!” she says. “I feel like a 20-year-old.” But the 60-year-old widower she had an affair with after leaving her own marriage of 25 years was preoccupied with his inability to maintain an erection, she says.

As Mostel explains, the arousal and erection that took seconds to achieve in youth takes longer with age and doesn’t last as long. Older men also go into a refractory phase after orgasm, Mostel adds, with hours or days passing before they can ejaculate again.

Mary Ann says it took a lot of talking to convince her partner that her sexual pleasure was not derived totally from intercourse. “I don’t make a big deal of it and try to be very patient,” she says. She also shared with him some of her most erotic fantasies and started buying almond-scented massage oil. Exchanging sensual massages took the pressure off sexual performance, she says.

After his wife died, Gerald, a retired real estate broker, says he went into a panic. Part of it was due to his grief, he says. Another part was worrying that if he didn’t “use it,” he would, in fact, “lose it.”

Gerald found himself dating a lot of women, with little satisfaction. Now in a steady relationship, he says he still has performance anxiety. But he is with a woman he can really talk to, he says. Taking bubble baths by candle-light and drinking champagne in the bathtub doesn’t hurt either, he says.

Good communication with your partner is key to having a healthy, satisfying sexual relationship, Mostel says. Obsessing about orgasm is often the easiest way to prevent it from happening at all, she adds.

Weiss says she still needs to reassure her partner, with whom she has been for almost two years, that she doesn’t have to have intercourse or an orgasm to feel satisfied. “I figured I lived without intercourse for eight years and I could probably live without it for the rest of my life,” she says.

SEX ISN’T WHAT IT USED TO BE

Gerald had been married for 35 years when his wife died. Never having experienced the sexual revolution, he suddenly felt like he had to make up for lost time. But he never anticipated that women would ask him to use a condom.

Older adults are fooling themselves if they think they are immune to sexually transmitted diseases like herpes or AIDS, Mostel warns. Men still tend to be more sexually promiscuous than women, she says. And they have a wider pool to choose from, she adds, since men in their 40s and 50s can attract women from age 30 to age 60. And many women who are 45 and older don’t consider themselves at risk of contracting AIDS, a disease that is primarily associated with intravenous drug users and homosexual men. Because they belong to a generation that links condoms solely with birth control, they often enter into affairs unprotected, Mostel says.

Mary Ann says she insisted that her current boyfriend get an AIDS test, knowing he had been very active during the years after his divorce.

THERE’S MORE TO MAKING LOVE THAN JUST….

If you get steamed up when your lover whispers in your ear, then you have already proved that sex the second time around does not require intercourse. It’s communicating, caressing, and having realistic expectations that count. Here are some suggestions from the experts:

* Be prepared for stimulation to take a little longer than it did when you were in your twenties.

* Don’t be afraid to use fantasies to arouse yourself or your partner.

* Try not to let whether or not you have an orgasm be the entire measure of your sex life. The expectation alone can be inhibiting.

* Make love at different times in the day. Mostel says. “There’s no law that says sex has to occur after all the TV shows.”

Nor is there a law that says young people have a monopoly on sexual excitement. If you’re attracted to someone and a relationship is blooming, remember the words of the silver-haired old sage: “There may be snow on top but there’s a fire down below.”

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