Sex After 50: The Best You’ll Ever Have?

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Barbara Hannah Grufferman answers the burning question we all want to know, but are afraid to ask.

My husband and I met in the sweltering summer of 1992 and started rocking and rolling immediately. But from the moment we got married a year later, we were 1) thinking about getting pregnant, 2) in a state of pregnancy, 3) recovering from pregnancy or 4) enjoying (and coping with) the results of pregnancy: babies, toddlers and, now, two teenagers. It wasn’t exactly conducive to swinging from chandeliers.

During those early years, sex was focused more on a result (children), but that’s no longer the case. Like most couples over 50, we are free to have sex pretty much whenever we want. But, do we?

I tried to find some statistics about how many times per week married Americans over 50 made love (with each other), but there were so many different studies saying so many different things, it was hard to suss out the truth. One stated that married couples over 50 had sex once or twice a week, while another claimed it was closer to once or twice a month.

Confused and in need of more information, I met with Dr. Margaret Nachtigall, a reproductive endocrinologist in New York City, who shared some statistics from a study done by The National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior:

A study of married couples found age and marital satisfaction to be the two variables most associated with amount of sex. As couples age, they engage in sex less frequently, with half of couples age 65-75 still engaging in sex, but less than one fourth of couples over 75 still sexually active. Across all ages, couples who reported higher levels of marital satisfaction also reported higher frequencies of sex.

This study left me feeling that the older we got, the less we got it. Not good.

I raised this topic with some girlfriends one night over a bottle of wine, hoping to get insights into their concerns, and (yes, I admit it) how often they had sex (with their partners).

We all had the same question: I love my husband and he loves me, so why aren’t we having as much hot sex as we used to? We want to have sex, but sometimes we just aren’t into it. How do we get in the mood? We all hated thinking that things were slowing down, and that they might slow down even more. For sure, menopause can sometimes make sex uncomfortable, and our libido can drop off. But just because a woman is post-menopausal, does she automatically lose interest? Forever? Was that my future? Was I supposed to lock this door and throw away the key?

I was getting worried. And whenever I get worried, I do research. Finally, someone suggested I meet with Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity, which explores many of the questions my friends and I were confronting – specifically, why couples who have been together for a very long time often can’t sustain a rich, enjoyable sexual life … together. Esther was particularly eager to find out because in her view, sex after 50 may be the best sex we’ll ever have.

First, she said, we had to address some long-held views about sex after 50 that may not be true.

  • Women over 50 are sexually dysfunctional due to menopause. According to Esther’s research, the majority of women over 50 are sexually healthy. Sexual problems that are menopause-related can be addressed with simple solutions like lubricants or estrogen.
  • Men think women over 50 are sexually undesirable. Esther has rarely encountered a man who says his low sex drive is related to how his wife looks, or her age. But, he will be turned off if she has stopped being interested in sex. Men want women who want sex.
  • If you’re not having spontaneous sex, it must mean your sex life is over. When, Esther asked, was sex ever spontaneous? When you were first together, you had sex on your mind for hours, maybe even days, leading up to the experience. In many cases, you set the date, thought about it, planned the evening — even what to wear. It may have seemed spontaneous, but it wasn’t. Good sex is planned sex.
  • If a couple is having less sex, it’s her fault. News flash: If a woman over 50 is having less sex, chances are it’s him, not her. In men, low sex drive is often related to health problems or medications he may be on, many of which are known to create some sexual functioning challenges. Men aren’t used to needing stimulation, and it can be troubling. Sometimes he’ll just avoid it, causing the woman to think he’s no longer attracted to her — which results in a sexual Catch-22.
  • If you want to have a better sex life, you need to get closer. On the contrary, Esther says, excess information and over-sharing can put the kibbosh on desire, while a little mystery can fuel sexual attraction. Creating an erotic space between you and your partner is essential for good sex. (I share lots of tips on how to do that in The Best of Everything After 50.)

Then, we explored the three main tools that women can use to get into the mood:

  • Arousal – Watch a movie or read a book, have a fantasy, put on some sexy lingerie. Many things can arouse us. Arousal can lead to desire, and desire leads to sex. Figure out what gets you going and use it when you need it.
  • Desire – Desire means wanting to be turned on. With this entry point, you want to get aroused, and you want to actively engage in getting turned on with your partner.
  • Willingness – This is the most important entry point for women over 50. If you’ve been ignoring, neglecting or denying your sexual self for a while, then you must consciously decide that you want sex in order to even let yourself feel desire. We talk ourselves into doing things all the time – going out to an event, cooking dinner – but people don’t think about talking themselves into having sex (and they often confuse it with “pity sex”). This makes complete and total sense to me … and, even better, it works!

So here’s the big reveal: After 50, we’re at a sexual crossroads, and need to make a choice: We could go through menopause, shut down that part of ourselves, lock the door and throw away the key. Or we could embrace this new life with a sense of freedom and fun – no more periods, no more worries about getting pregnant, no more doing it because there has to be a result. You may very well find yourself having the best sex … ever!

And finally, one little bit of advice: Stop looking for studies about how often other people have sex. No one really knows what goes on behind closed doors (no matter what they say to the survey interviewer). And … who cares?

Editor’s Note: Barbara Hannah Grufferman is the author of The Best of Everything After 50: The Experts’ Guide to Style, Sex, Health, Money, and More.

5 comments so far.

  1. avatar anneh says:

    Very well said!  Thanks for this wonderfully practical and common-sense advice on how to stay connected with your partner throughout a lifetime.  My husband and I are married twenty-five good years – both 51 – and I attribute our both making sex one of our connection priorities with our good years together thus far.  Thanks for a well-written piece on an important topic.

  2. avatar Joan Larsen says:

    My own thoughts on love, life and the best of long marriages:  Shared memories, shared experiences of getaways, of travel, more, are the glue that binds a couple together through thick or thin.  When you love your man – if you remember early on – you crave the times for you two alone.  The fun, the excitement, is never to be forgotten.  The children come.  . and as children do, they take up all your time, your energy.  When you say you are too tired, you really mean you are exhausted, don’t you?  You are “all done”.  But, I have found, the children cannot be the end-all.  . or it is very difficult to get that excitement back later.  It is then that divorce happens.  What do you do?  You two plan together (the together part is important), put dri bs and drabs of money away for as many getaways as you can manage during the child-rearing years.  Just time for the two of you – time to laugh, time to enjoy once again.  . and again, the end result are memories that bind.

    What you will find out is that instead of being married to a total stranger once the kids are gone, second honeymoons at home – and away – are just a continuation of the good private moments . . . and not like having a stranger in your house.

    But our great author with that wonderful book that should be read (!) is talking about marriage after 50.  As women don’t come into their own fully until they are 50 or over, their confidence, their understanding and intelligence have kicked in like never before.  We should be feeling very good about ourselves – and in these good years, making strides of our own in moving forward in all walks of life.  The better we feel – I call it “glowing” – is usually carried through to our lifetime partner and believe me, you have become a magnet in your private life.

    Does life get better?  For myself and those who confide in me, it does.  . and that goes big time into the private life.  What can kill “close encounters” is planning them.  We all know that planning has a large element of PRESSURE attached.  We find we cannot live up to that and the bubble bursts.  What does work beyond well?  Sponteneity.  . and it works big time.  Passing each other in the kitchen can lead to touching, hugs — and in my house, dancing — which gets you in the mood pretty darn fast.  Electricity CANNOT be planned and you know it.  . and this act is supposed to be FUN.  Well, isn’t it?  Getting silly, laughing, whispering reminders of past encounters and places, get you charged. 

    It is important that the two of you do not become joined at the hip (well, unless it is times like this).  You both should be at your best after 50, full of the knowledge of deeper love and its importance.  You should be on your own separate tracks in your outside life, coming together with great conversations at dinnertime - good enough that the TV doesn’t have to be turned on to drown out the silence between you.  

    Hopefully, times away together take a bigger part in your lives.  Get out there together — and if you need excuses, well — you only live once so you better see what the larger world has to offer.  Or so I have found.  It often acts as Love Potion Number One.  . and then your inclinations take it from there.

    In life, I find it best NOT to set blame for things on another.  . for more often than not, it is actually EXCUSES for your own disinterest – which usually has much deeper seeds . . . and YOU know what they are.  There often is a need for honesty, delicately phrased if needed, on both partners’ parts.  We cannot begin to make our private lives better – if, indeed,  the aren’t – without talking to the one person who should be the most important person in our lives.  When we “spill” to our girlfriends instead, we are in deep trouble. 

    The importance of a deep love in our lives may not assume the largest importance for another decade or more.  But IF you do not sustain that — or find that later — you will be missing that most vital piece of your own jigsaw puzzle of YOU.  . for matters of the heart matter the most!

  3. avatar KatyDid Wells says:

    This past weekend, my husband was home in between business trips.  We hadn’t seen each other in a week and he was getting ready to leave again.  He was busily typing an email when I walked into the room and stood next to his desk.  He looked up and I asked if he was interested in some extracurricular activities – I’ll leave the specifics to your imagination, some things really are private ;-) .  He stated that he couldn’t at that moment, but we planned to get together before he left that afternoon.  I smiled and said, “I do love being older and married, don’t you?” 

    There would have been a time in my life that the thought of scheduling sex would have been cold and clinical, but now, I know that it’s not that way at all… we know each other so well and talking about what we want, when we want it, keeps us both happy and fulfilled - we always consider each other as well as ourselves – we have a fantastic sex life.  

    I’ve always felt that a marriage is a matter of choices – if you choose to watch TV eight hours a day/night instead of curling up next to your spouse and reading a book or rolling around in bed, that’s your choice.  If you choose to run around with the boys/girls 6 nights a week and only give your spouse 1 night, that’s your choice.  If you want something from your spouse, whether it’s in the kitchen, the yard, or the bedroom, and you never tell him or her, then that’s your choice. 

    Oh, and it doesn’t matter if you find out that the Joneses are doing it three times a week and you’re only doing it once a month… if you and your husband are content and happy doing it once a month – Great!  Don’t get caught in the trap of feeling like your marriage and sex life has to be in some Cosmopolitan test, cookie cutter mold.  I’m happy with my choices, and in the end, you just have to be happy with yours. 

    By the way – my best advice for any marriage… laugh together every single day! 

  4. We have been married 27 years. Our nest is mostly empty. We love the privacy without kids in the house. We don’t have sex as often as we used to but it doesn’t matter. (mostly due to just be plain tired when we go to bed). Quality vs quantity. Being intimate with someone that you share so much of life’s joys and sorrows with – it doesn’t get better than that. I am blessed.

  5. avatar jnaki says:

    I am 54 years old and my wife is 43. We have sex every day and sometimes when in the mood, we might as well do an extra quicky. I still find my wife to be very attractive and I now am even more interested in having sex to her than when we got married 22 years ago. I think sex is an important part of marriage life. Without it, marriage is dull. People should also spare time for having sex on a daily basis. I do admit my sex drive is somewhat higher than my wife’s. Trying to have sex every day could be very challenging for her as sometimes she considers this to be more mechanical than passionate. I try to accomodate as much as I can but sometimes I admit to getting moody when I don’t have sex everyday. This upsets her as she’s accomodating in all respects. After 22 years of marriage, I am more happy than ever because I am having daily sex. I also think that this will continue in the future no matter what my and her ages woudl be.

    Life with sex is great and without it is very sad.