Category: Bloom

The Invisibility of Aging

AGE, SEX AND CULTURE:
A CASE STUDY

When I asked my new client what had prompted our visit, she responded simply, “I’m distressed.”

“About something in particular?” I queried.

“No, that’s part of the problem,” she lamented. And then she told me her story.

“The other day I was introduced to a man about my same age. When I commented on his striking grey hair, he responded, with what I’m sure he thought was a compliment, that he supposed I “probably used to be a ‘real looker’.” Used to be? That remark unleashed a torrent of thoughts that have boiled into a sort of impotent frustration.

I’m in my sixties. I’m still the same woman I was when I could command notice, but now people look at me as simply old, if they look at me at all. Somehow I became invisible, and the more I think about that, the angrier become.”

I validated her experience, adding that many women first note these societal attitudes when we are called ‘ma’am’ or offered a seat on a bus. We perceive different treatment in restaurants and stores. We see other women our age in the media only if they’re selling skin cream or step-in tubs, symbols of withering and helplessness.

Then we looked in the mirror. The woman looking back at us has indeed faded. Skin grows loose, hair pale, and body soft.

“And I’m seen as sexless,” she complained.

“The older I’ve gotten, the better I am at sex. Sure, I sometimes need to apply extra cream or lube before any sex that involves penetration, but I’ve learned how to show up for sex. I know what I like and how to ask for it and my partner responds languidly and perceptively. It wasn’t like that in the beginning— our sexual confidence and power were earned! Neither of us had the information we needed early on. It was only with time and practice that we knew each other well enough to become really great lovers, to learn how to be truly intimate”.

“You’re so right,” I agreed. “It’s difficult enough for women to resist society’s disapproval of our sexuality, called slut shaming. We’re supposed to be sexy, but not sexual. When we layer on the attitude that we’re not sexually interesting–or interested–because we’re older, it makes maintaining our sexual identity that much harder. And when you’re actually feeling smokin’ hot, it’s frustrating and maddening.”

My client is not alone in her lament. Older couples enjoy their sexual proficiency, and research (Kleinplatz) proves this is so. Long term loving couples report that sex just keeps getting better and better.

Still, the loss of public recognition of us as sexually potent women robs of us of an important part of our identity, our self esteem. Our grief about this loss is denied publicly. If we complain about losing the elasticity in our skin, or those intractable five kilos added with menopause, we’ll be told we look just fine “for our age.” Does no one understand our sorrow?

It is difficult to change, to age, to watch one’s vitality ebb. We need confirmation of this transition, acknowledgement of our grief at losing what was and accepting what is now.

“Yes,” she nodded. “Like everyone else, I grieve the loss of my youth.  And I suppose my frustration at being seeing differently won’t change cultural norms. I’m glad to know the belief that sex evaporates when wrinkles arrive is false. I want great sex till I die. I suppose I should start seeing every new wrinkle as an indicator of all the great sex I’m having!”

The session ended with a recap: although society doesn’t acknowledge that, with age, sex grows ripe and full, this lack of recognition is surely outweighed by sexual satisfaction grown only with time and practice. In all, it’s not such a bad trade.

 

 

First Time Lesbian Sex

Dear Dr Ren,

I’ve always dated men, and happily so. I like sex with men. But recently I watched some lesbian porn that really turned me on. I would like to find out what sex with another woman would be like, but I’m not interested in adopting a lesbian lifestyle.

Curious

restful bedroomDear Curious,

You are what we describe as “bi-curious.” Though you are not actually questioning your heterosexual orientation, you would like to experiment with what sex with a woman feels like. This is common, especially as our culture is becoming more tolerant of sexual experimentation. Recent research, notably by Meston and Diamond, validates the fluidity of women’s erotic arousal targets throughout their lifespans.

With access to internet dating, realizing our fantasies can be a reality fairly easily. Remember that the majority of lesbian porn is still made by men, for men. The sex you are likely watching would not approximate your real life experience. To see how lesbian sex is in real life, seek out erotica made by and for lesbians.

How will sex with another woman be different?

First of all, there will be a lot more talking, and sex will take hours. Women tend to put emphasis on different aspects of sex. You will likely discover a more languid pace. Penetration is not a given. Dominant and submissive roles are not based on sex-role stereotyping, so initiation and flirtation must be shared or at least negotiated on some level.

Your emotions, too, will need to be managed. Sex with someone new is captivating, and the cascade of endorphins you’ll enjoy will feel a whole lot like falling in love. To avoid appropriately hurt feelings, you’ll need to stay aware.

Choose your partners carefully. Be clear with your intentions. Nobody wants to be a science experiment.

Once you’ve contemplated these factors and are ready to try dating, consider seeking bi-sexual women rather than those who identify as lesbian. The advantages are:

  • Bisexual women will better understand your primary identification as a straight woman. Many of them will share your diversity of attraction.
  • Bisexual women have a comfort with the bodies of both men and women, and what sex with same and divergent sex parts is like.
  • Identify yourself clearly as bisexual seeking an experience. This alerts lesbian women looking for another woman who DOES live the lifestyle.

If you want to proceed to finding a suitable date for this new adventure, see  http://www.smartsextalk.com/im-bi-curious/.

Does this make you a lesbian?

You tell me you are curious about sex with a woman, but don’t want to adopt a lesbian lifestyle. There’s not one model, you know.

In other words, be willing to change your plans. Sex is mightily powerful, and so is friendship, and sex between women involves both. If you find yourself happy and content with a woman you intended to be solely an experiment, be prepared to change course. It is always your choice.

Don’t let these considerations to deter you from indulging your curiosity. Indeed, it is repressing our eroticisms that torments us and our lovers far more greatly than those we realize. Still, these are not mathematical equations you are trying to solve. Expecting this to go smoothly is unrealistic.

Be brave, be adventuresome, and be prepared. Immerse yourself in the heady intoxication of discovering something about yourself that you didn’t know beforehand. It will leave you smiling.

 

Sex Changes with Aging

Dear Dr Ren/Bloom,

I’ve been married over three decadues, and over those years my husband and I have developed a fulfilling sexual relationship. Ironically, now that we’ve gotten really good at this, age is throwing us some curves. My husband now has some trouble maintaining his erections, and my vagina becomes easily irritated during intercourse.

What can we do to help overcome these obstacles to great sex?

Older but Determined

Dear Older but Determined,

It’s true that getting older gives with one hand and takes with the other. While we enjoy the benefits of learned intimacy and performance skills, our bodies fall prey to decline. You are wise to be seeking remedies, as there are many.

Regarding your husband’s less reliable erections, reassure him that this change does not indicate his failure to be a good lover. Explore the delights of sensual touch and reconsider the requirement of intercourse in defining what good sex means to you both. Intercourse and orgasm may no longer be so tightly linked, though both can continue to be enjoyable.

Long term happy couples who report ever-deepening sexual connection tell us that they attribute this success to two primary elements, keeping sex a priority and laughter. Yes, laughter! They celebrate every opportunity to have fun together sexually and otherwise. And they make sure the pressures of daily life don’t interfere with their private time together. It proves to be a winning combination.

With all this going for you, don’t let the changes of age dampen your spirits or your enjoyment. Your husband can find help for his flagging erections by using a cock ring which traps blood in the penis. Add to the fun by choosing one that adds vibrations. It will boost pleasure and performance in an unobtrusive, fun way, and you’ll both benefit.

Your growing vaginal discomfort is likely caused by the thinning tissues and decreasing lubrication brought about by menopause and declining hormone levels. Keep lubricant handy and use it liberally.

Those delicate tissues require ongoing ‘exercise’ to stay healthy. If you appreciate more penetration than you may now receive from intercourse alone, treat yourself to a dildo designed for older women, one that is firm yet pliable, and smooth in texture. You can use this for solo sex, or your husband can use it with you when his erections flag at inopportune moments. This will keep your genital tissues active and healthy and relieve any pressure your partner may feel regarding his erections.

Perhaps most importantly, remember that changes to your bodies will continue. We need to develop and maintain a certain sense of humour and philosophical attitude about the loss of our robust youth. However, you have already discovered the compensation of vulnerability, intimacy and trust in your decades-long sexual relationship. That openness and experimental attitude will do you well as you learn to accommodate the obstacles that aging bodies can set before us.

Don’t let embarrassment silence you. Keep talking openly with your partner about how sex works—and doesn’t. Solve the issues as they arise, together. With good communication, an experimental attitude, and sex toys designed for your particular needs, there’s no reason you two can’t continue to enjoy great sex for the rest of your lives!

 

 

Consequences of Sensual Expression

Dear Dr Ren,

When I relocated from a city to the town where my sister lives, she gave me a gift certificate for a massage with Kelly, her regular RMT. Following that session, I mentioned intending to rebook another appointment. My sister said she’d give me another recommendation, but Kelly wouldn’t see me again. I had to pry to get the reason.

It seems I moaned during my massage and that offended Kelly. Apparently I sounded “sexual.” It wasn’t sexual…I was just responding to my pleasure! I was shocked and angry at first, but those emotions gave way to a deep internal shame. I had embarrassed my dear sister, and potentially damaged my reputation.

I wondered who else judged me for what I considered simple expressions of pleasure.

Now I find myself hyper aware of how I express my response to any kind of pleasure, lest I’ll be judged. I’m less quick to hug, or even touch someone casually. How can I know what’s acceptable?

Have I missed an etiquette lesson?

Moana

Dear Moana,

This incident has clearly had a profound effect on you. Kelly’s response to your coos of pleasure during your massage is an example of what we call sex panic or pleasure phobia.

As a culture, we are confused and conflicted about sex, touch and pleasure, and how we combine and differentiate them. Sex’s power sometimes frightens us. That can stop us from fully expressing ourselves so that we don’t risk appearing sexually motivated even when we’re not.

All touch becomes suspect when we’re nervous about sexuality. Because sex and touch are so intertwined in our society, it can be difficult to disentangle them in every context without additional cues to how to interpret the touch correctly. Kelly’s discomfort with sensual sound resulted from her misinterpretation of your sounds as sexual, and that frightened her.

We go so far with this fear that a parochial school recently imposed a No Touch rule for its students. That’s right: elementary school kids will be punished if they are ‘caught’ touching! Teachers, sadly, have long been advised about the ‘inappropriateness’ of touching their students, even when they need comforting.

The concept of ‘pleasure’ gets even more confusing. It’s difficult to pigeon-hole the source of pleasure, as it lives in a multitude of settings, situations and contexts.  If Kelly’s frame of reference regarding pleasure is limited, she’ll lack an appreciation for context. Hence, she interpreted your appreciative moans as your aching muscles eased as love calls.

So yes, Moana, I do think it’s easy to offend the skittish. Those who are uncomfortable with sex will likely be judgmental about expressions of pleasure as well. You experienced deep shame as a result of her judgment.

Perhaps your new town is less enlightened than your old one. You may have to reign in your exuberance to fit in. That’s the sad but realistic news.

The good news is that, once behind the walls of your own home, you can set the rules. Enjoy hugging family and friends. Set an ethic of abundant physical interaction within your inner circle.

And inside your bedroom, you can express yourself with abandon, free from judgment. No need to hold back here. Here you can be as expressive as you want to be. Create an environment in which pleasure and erotic heat can flourish. Design your own personal oasis where unfettered emotion and expression always welcome you!

You’ll encounter lots of Kellys. Though you may resent having to trim your expressive sails to avoid the shame they would have you wear, you can balance the injustice by building a judgment free, touch positive zone within your own home.

 

 

 

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