The Spice That Keeps Mature Couples Going

sexualityof-matureDeanna, a willowy brunette who looks a decade younger than her 50 years, has no trouble with the question. “What are my sexual secrets after being happily married for 30 years?” she repeats. “It’s simple — communication, consideration, and compromise.”

“Consideration is the number one sexual turn-on,” confirms Lynn Fischer, a Washington-based science writer who specializes on sexuality of mature Americans.

On the other hand, Dr. David Burns, author of Intimate Connections, notes that sex can fizzle if a couple is suffering through “unexpressed anger, jealousy, or unresolved power struggles” without seeking help.

The experts, as well as happily married couples who still excite each other, are clearly in agreement on one point. Most of the time, if the couples are in good health, there is no reason why sex, like fine wine, cannot improve with age. Sex therapists Linda Levine and Lonnie Barbach in their book, The Intimate Male, cite a survey of 800 men and women over 60. Two-thirds asserted that sex was the same or better, compared to when they were younger.

Often, the secrets for successful sex over the long term have more to do with everything but sex. When a relationship is successful on many levels and the partners feel good about themselves, there is no reason that the sex should not be just as vibrant — if not as frequent — as it was in those idyllic honeymoon days.

Dr. Michael Gordon, medical director of the Baycrest Center in Toronto, who likes to call himself a “Dr. Spock for seniors,” puts it this way: “One common myth is that sexual desire and attraction decrease with age. But youth does not have a monopoly on sex. Although books, television, and movies almost never depict an older person expressing passion or love, this is just a reflection of the myth.

“Most people continue to have the same pattern of sexual expression and desire that they had during their younger years,” says Dr. Gordon, author of Old Enough to Feel Better. “Those who were reserved and not particularly sexually active will probably find it quite easy to assume a more sedate sexual life. People who were sexually active during youth and derived enjoyment from sexual activity will probably continue to do so.”

“It’s a drive that never goes away,” agrees Adele Kennedy, a Lost Angeles sex surrogate. Some therapists call in a surrogate when a patient is having doubts about his or her sexuality.

She recalls one patient who had had no sex for years because his wife was sick. After his wife died, the widower tried dating but was worried about whether he could perform again. Kennedy helped him discover that he was still a sexual being.

Lettie Bennett, 67, of Catawba, Virginia, was interviewed by Maturity News Service in a nationwide survey of 1,000 Americans over 50. “If other things are all right, sex will work out,” she says. “Kindness, understanding, and unselfishness are most important.”

In fact, 71% of those surveyed concluded that it is love that is “very important” if a marriage is to succeed. And the key elements to that love are companionship, tolerance, and understanding.

Sarah, a new Jersey widow, remembers the things that turned her on in her long and happy marriage — and although none of them were blatantly sexual, they aroused her sexual feelings for her husband, Charlie.

“It’s the little things I remember best,” she recalls. “He would bring me flowers, nice roses when times were good. But even when we didn’t have any money, he would pick flowers from the garden. And every morning, he would give me a kiss before he left the house. I remember one morning when he was angry at something that happened at work, he left without kissing me. But he was back five minutes later, telling me he could not get through the day knowing he had not kissed me.”

Partners in flourishing marriages confirm the importance of words of endearment, kisses, hugs, and other underrated expressions of affection. If they are sincere, these simple daily reminders affirm the relationship — and can stoke the fires of passion in the bedroom.

Another theme that is sounded often when speaking with happily married couples is an awareness that sexual intercourse is not the be-all and end-all of sexual activity. Manual stimulation of the partner, oral-genital contact, and masturbation are frequently mentioned as alternatives — for the sake of variety or to provide satisfaction if one partner is tired or feeling unwell. Communication and openness, again, are the keys to making it work.

The marriage of Fred, a 53-year-old writer, and Mary, who is half his age, is vital and successful, both will admit. But when asked to identify the secret of their success, Fred demures — at first. “I never really analyzed it,” he says. “All I can tell you is we’re both really horny and the sex is very good.”

But then Fred does go ahead and analyze it. His first wife, Sue, died of cancer after their marriage of 25 years. He recalls some troubling times in that marriage. Sometimes he had difficulty talking to his wife. She would say she just did not want to listen to what was troubling him. There were repeated arguments over money, how to raise the kids, and over the time he spent away from home due to his demanding job as a newspaper reporter.

But the situation is different this time around. For one thing, Fred has changed. He puts less emphasis on his work and more on his family. And Fred gives credit to his young wife: “When I talk to Mary she’s open to any reasonable thing.” But he also agrees that he is more tolerant, less pushy: “I accept her the way she is. I don’t try to change her.”

And that may be the real sexual secret of this marriage — and many marriages. Trust and faith, not recriminations and doubt, keep the marriage strong.

“Consideration is vital,” says writer Lynn Fischer. “Consideration is real hard for a lot of men. The skills men learn in the business world are the worst skills in a relationship,” she adds, recalling a recent date who was competitive, aggressive, and authoritative, but hardly compassionate, sensitive — or considerate. “He was an extremely successful businessman who didn’t know anything about relationships,” she says.

But any individual, as well as any couple, is capable of change. There is a romantic self dwelling within us all: “I heard a man say that, every day, he tries to make his wife feel glad that she married him,” says Fischer. “He wanted to make sure that, every day, she would feel that she had a reason for staying with him.

“In long-term relationships among successful couples — it has been said over and over again — the sexual attraction you had at the beginning is the same at the end. It can be enhanced or reduced,” observes Fischer.

“If people allow themselves to change and grow, keeping the sex alive is not too difficult.”

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