A distressed friend recently confided that her father has fallen in love with the family’s Indonesian helper and has taken her as a mistress. She does not understand why her father, who is in his mid-70s and widowed for almost 20 years, has to get intimate with her when all he needs is a housekeeper to do the cooking and cleaning for the extended family.
Her perception, which is common among most young people, is that people stop being interested in sex or intimacy as they age. In Asian communities particularly, people above 50 who are already grandmas and grandpas are usually deemed too old or frail to be interested in the opposite sex, let alone seek sexual gratification.
That, however, cannot be further from the truth. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Manchester published early this year debunks the misconception that only young people are interested in sex.
Although the frequency and performance levels are not the same as couples who are younger, the study clearly shows that sex is something that does not go away with age. It may not be as physically vigorous (think hot and steamy) as before but it remains an important part of life, regardless of age.
Rolling with the paunches
The quality of sexual activity as one ages depends largely on the health, relationship status and self-esteem of both couples. Obviously, when one or both partners is ill or have some form of degenerative condition such as arthritis, Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease, intimacy may be affected. One important aspect of intimacy, especially among seniors, is that intercourse may not be top on their priority list.
As the body ages, everything slows down to a comfortable speed. Hot passionate sex is replaced with cosy snuggling, kissing, hugging and giving each other back or foot rubs. Couples who enjoy intimacy most are those who are comfortable with their own bodies and recognise that they are not “spring chickens” anymore. Still, they know that beneath the sagging skin, wrinkles, bulges – warts and all – is the same person they fell in love with, either in recent years or for the last few decades.
There is also less performance anxiety, with both partners knowing that there is no need to impress each other. With that comes the confidence to let their partner know what makes them feel good, so there are no guessing games in bed. Your partner is also more likely to understand and not feel disappointed if you fall asleep after a nice relaxing massage, because the exertion from giving the massage is just as tiring.
With lowered expectations, there are less disappointments and disagreements on sexual gratification compared to younger couples. In 1938, a group of researchers started the Harvard Grant Study, where they tracked the lives of 268 men over 75 years to find out how value systems and life choices affect quality of life.
The findings of the study, which is acknowledged as one of the longest, most comprehensive studies done on the human species, showed that the top determinants of happiness and life satisfaction is not how intelligent or beautiful one is, or how much money they make, but how much they feel they are loved and valued. No matter how physical faculties such as vision, smell, taste, hearing and internal organs fail over time, the sense of touch never loses its power. The skin-to-skin sensation, known since the day we were born in our mothers’ arms, continue to act as a healing balm all our lives, especially in the golden years.
According to World Health Organization published data in 2011 for Malaysia, with the average lifespan extended to 71.7 (for men) and 76.4 (for women), it is time we stop being surprised (or disgusted) when post-menopausal people find new love or begin a new relationship. Research shows that sex or intimacy play important roles to improve heart health, reduce pain and depression, as well as increase relaxation and self-esteem. All these can contribute to healthy ageing and increase quality of life.
However, to enjoy a healthy relationship into your golden years, good health is paramount. This means stopping alcohol consumption and cigarettes, exercising regularly and having a low-fat, low-sugar diet. Some women past menopausal age encounter problems with sexual desire or painful intercourse due to the lack of oestrogen produced in the ovaries after menopause. There are easy solutions for this, either via oestrogen creams or Bio Identical Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT).
These therapies help to lubricate the vagina, while reducing other unpleasant effects of menopause such as hot flushes, headaches, emotional instability and weight gain, which might affect bedroom mood. Don’t be shy to seek sexual advice from your doctor during your annual health screening. Similarly, men with problems of erectile dysfunction due to diabetes or heart problems should also be open with their doctors instead of suffering in silence. Men who are suffering from andropause or low testosterone may also benefit with the BHRT programme.
Both partners must continue to take care of their personal hygiene such as using mouthwash (for bad breath due to ageing gums and teeth), moisturisers (for cracks in the heels and hands) and body wash (for body odour) to stay attractive to each other. Could 60 be the new 30? 70 the new 40 ? 80 the new… you get it. We are redefining the ageing stuff.
Yes, there may be challenges to sex after 60 and beyond, but focus on creative solutions. There’s nothing hotter than sex between two people who know their own bodies, with a lot of life experience, relish taking lots of time, are crazy about each other and honour both the physicality and the spirituality of sex.
Hot sex is definitely not just for the young. With wit, wisdom and encouragement, sex can be better than you expect at your 60s and beyond.
By Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar
Published in Star Newspaper, May 3, 2015