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Golden relationships

Getting older does not mean that you lose interest in sex.

CAN you believe that in the 18th and 19th century, people only lived to their 20s or 30s? Today, people in Malaysia can expect to live up to at least 70, and many even live up to the ripe old age of 80 or 90! Now that we are living longer, there are many aspects of our lives that we want to maintain in the golden years. We want to continue to be healthy, fit, independent and alert so that we can look forward to the years ahead, rather than dread them.

First, let’s get rid of the myth that older people can’t have a sex life. Whoever said that only younger people enjoy sex? You can lose your hair and some parts of your body may start drooping, but you will never lose the need for affection, intimacy and emotional closeness. It’s not easy for the older generation to accept this. If you’re a baby boomer, you would have grown up in an era where female sexual desire was never discussed. And to talk about sex in your old age?why, that’s just scandalous! In this article, I hope to overcome these taboos and help women realise that sex can be just as good, if not better, in the golden years.

Where have all the hormones gone?

If you feel that growing older has made you lose interest in sex, you’re not alone. About 40% of women report a drop in desire during menopause, and say that they have fewer sexual fantasies, thoughts, and desires, and are not as receptive to sexual activity. There’s no denying that a woman’s body changes as she ages. After menopause, the female sex hormones, oestrogen and progesterone, will drop and cause some physical changes that affect sexual intercourse.

It will take longer for your vagina to swell and lubricate when you’re sexually aroused. This can make intercourse less comfortable or even painful. You might also feel a burning sensation during vaginal penetration or discover vaginal bleeding afterward. The reduction in sex hormones will also cause less blood to flow to the clitoris and the genitals to become less sensitive. After menopause, your body will also produce less testosterone (yes, women have some testosterone in their bodies too), and this leads to a lower sex drive. Sometimes, it’s the menopausal symptoms like hot flushes, insomnia and mood swings that interfere with the sex drive.

But it’s not just about the hormones. For most women, sexual desire doesn’t necessarily begin with a desire for sex. What women want is intimacy and closeness with the person they love, which then leads to sexual desire. At this age, you may also be facing some medical problems like a chronic disease, chronic pain, surgery or an illness that causes fatigue. All these, while not affecting your sex drive directly, can make you feel like sex is the last thing on your mind. You may also be taking medications that interfere with sexual function.

Some high blood pressure medications reduce desire and vaginal lubrication in women, while some antihistamines, antidepressants and acid-blocking drugs can affect sexual function. These medications are very important for you, but you can talk to your doctor about how they are affecting your sexual function, and how you can minimise those effects.

But I’m wrinkly and saggy …

The biggest stumbling block to regaining your sexual desire is your mind. You’re probably thinking about how much less attractive or energetic you are, or how you may not be as good in bed anymore. All this worrying can trigger a lack of desire and make it a lot harder for you to become aroused. Instead of focusing on the negative aspects, think about the fact that your partner is just as grey, wrinkly and saggy as you are (or will be one day)! What’s more important than the physical aspects is the life experiences that you have both shared over the years. And don’t forget that men can be just as insecure as women – your partner may be having these fears about himself as well, so you have to reassure him that you still find him sexually attractive.

What can be done to treat it?

Does medical science have any answers to improve sexual desire for older women? There are some therapies available, for instance water-based lubricants (such as K-Y jelly) can make sex less painful or uncomfortable. Hormone therapy for menopause may help to improve symptoms of hot flushes and vaginal dryness, thus improving sexual desire. Sometimes, all it takes is some longer foreplay to stimulate your natural lubrication – and you have all the time in the world now without kids or work to worry about!

Don’t be afraid to talk to someone about this problem. Your family doctor or a sex therapist can offer advice about your relationship as well as new sexual techniques to try. Most importantly, you and your partner need to talk to each other. He needs to understand the physical and psychological changes that you’re going through, and you need to understand him as well. Together, you can decide how to regain your sex live without causing each other pain or discomfort.

The best time to be together

For some people, sex in the golden years is far better than what they experienced when they were younger. For one, you and your partner have gone through a lot together, and you know each other in ways that younger couples have not achieved. As you get older, there’s no longer the need to worry about careers, children, household duties and contraception! And even if you do not have intercourse, you can still be intimate with each other by hugging, holding hands, giving massages, and foot rubs. Sex shouldn’t be taboo for older people – it is a gift to be enjoyed between you and your loved one.

The Star Newspaper, Sunday September 30, 2007

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