Q. I have not had sex in 17 years and am about to turn 60. I am entering a great relationship though and am really worried about the possible pain since I have been a nun for so long. I used to have GREAT sex when younger and never any problems whatsoever. I have never used a vibrator, but have pleasured myself, just not with penetration. What can I do to prepare my body? My mind is ready…
A. My love, I hate to put any unwanted pressure on you, especially when penetration can seem like such a fickle thing sometimes, but I’d like to just say that you are also swimming against a tide of cultural brou-ha-ha and the idea that once a woman hits a certain age, that’s it, game over, and onto the role of docile grandmother or unsexed aunty. I suspect that the whole sexually dying, post menopause B.S. comes from all sources of misinformation, including the idea that you are no longer viewed as a sexual commodity, you can’t procreate, and the myth that getting older kills your sex drive. This list is as long as the reasons it is wrong. “‘Many believe that sex for old people is nonexistent, disgusting, or downright laughable,”‘ says Betty Dodson, sex educator, author, and woman over 60 having sex. “But all you folks can wipe those grins of embarrassment right off your face and accept this fact: American seniors are living well into their eighties today and many of us are still self-sufficient and very much interested in sexual activity.”
The great thing about you is that you are all, “Bring it on,” which is really half the battle. So much mental and emotional legwork goes into the idea of sex and it’s also where getting turned on happens first. You have really done yourself a favor by getting into a mind frame of, “Let’s do this,” when it can be so easy to start over-thinking and fretting over certain aspects of sex. Sex should be about letting go, and while it’s the head you usually start in, it’s the genitals that you want to spend the bulk in. “Arousal and desire used to be united, thanks to our hormones,” says Joan Price, author of both phenomenal pieces, Naked At Our Age: Talking Out Loud About Senior Sex and Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk On Sex After Sixty. “Now, they may operate separately… If you are interested, but arouse slowly, that’s common. As we get older, the flow of blood to our genitals and nerves’ responses to sexual stimulation both slow down… The more you nurture your sexual responses, the better they will keep working.”
I highly recommend both of Price’s books to you, not to mentally prepare, but to help navigate the physical side of sex at 60. One of the things that Price really stresses in her books is how even though we might mentally be jonesing for what we had at 25, 35, and 45, our bodies are vastly different at 60. This certainly isn’t reason to have boring sex, it’s just a way to help you find the ways in which your body can physically experience the most pleasure when in fact most of your body’s physical sexual response system has slowed to a halt. What I like most about Price’s books are is that she is not into slowing down. Yes, the body is vastly different post-menopause. Yes, certain parts might not be as quick to respond or limbs might be a bit slower to move. But Price offers nothing but creative solutions, often referencing her own experience with sex at 60, warts and all.
Okay, so books are great, but what about things to actually help during sex? You say you are worried about possible pain, especially since it has been a while, but you have been working on clitoral stimulation, so gold stars for you. The clit is a magic button, able to transport the worst of your troubles far away… okay, a touch over-romantic, but the clitoris is really where all the action goes down. By stimulating the clitoris, you help make everything else in the general vicinity relax, allowing for penetration to be easier. I am guessing you have been masturbating with your hands, which, if it works, keep at it. But if you want to get into the world of toys (and really, this advice can be used if you feel more comfortable using just your hands), I’d say let’s start with a small game plan.
1. Lube: If I were to go to court tomorrow, I’d swear on a bottle of lube, rather than the Bible (personally, lube has proven more effective in my life). One of the main physical issues you might run up against is how quickly you are to get wet. If you don’t get wet immediately, it is okay since that comes with the territory of menopause. You aren’t the baby-making machine you once were. (Free birth control!) But remember, STIs are still poppin’, and often at double the rate) but now, all the things that were helping procreate, thus, making sex easier, aren’t as reliable. That’s where lube comes in. I recommend using a water-based lube:
Water-based personal lubricants are water-soluble and are the most widely-used personal lubricants. The earliest water-based lubricants were cellulose ether or glycerin solutions. Products available today may have various agents added for even dispersal, moisture retention, and resistance to contamination. The viscosity of these products can be altered by adjusting their water content and concentration of cellulose or other gel-forming hydrophilic ingredient.
Water-based lubes are the least likely to agitate your vagina (though some water-based lubes do have glycerin in them, so if you have glycerin allergies, make sure to find a water-based lube that does not have glycerin) and are water-soluble, thus, they absorb and evaporate. Lube will make any penetration easier, as friction, and then the awareness of said friction, can cause a bit of stress, thus, clamping your vagina down. If you make sure to put it on a toy or on your partner’s penis beforehand, it will also coat the inside walls of your vagina, making it less likely to tear or be uncomfortable during sex.
2. Small Dilator or Vibrator: If you want to ease into penetration or even a vibrator, work your way up. It’s easy to go into a store or on a site, looking for a beginner’s toy and see the Vanity Vr10 Dual Stimulation Vibe and feel a bit intimidated. But the good thing about all of this – masturbation, sex, sex toys, sexual pleasure, etc. – is that it isn’t a competition and certainly not a race. You have to find your own way, however that works. Start small, as small as you think you should. I would recommend using small dilators, which normally come in a set of different widths. While they don’t have the clitoral stimulation, they may help you get comfortable with penetration by getting you used to different size objects inside you. On the other hand, if you do want to try a vibrator, find something that you can either use specifically on your clitoris while you penetrate yourself with your fingers or a vibrator with a small enough shaft that you can penetrate yourself while providing clitoral stimulation. I like the Butterfly Bliss, only because it was one of the first vibrators I ever owned (and still own) because it provides just the right amount of penetration, with a great amount of clitoral stimulation. Of course, you don’t have to stick to this model: there are great selections of beginner vibrators on all sites.
3. Relax and go at the pace you need: Again, this isn’t a race. Don’t get frustrated if your body isn’t responding the way you want it to. Like Price says, the body takes longer to respond now, but that response is there. If you are finding penetration difficult in the moment, take a break and focus on clitoral stimulation, or even stimulating your partner. Sex at this point is more like a marathon, rather than a 50-yard dash – you are going to have to pace yourself and work slowly towards that peak feeling. You might not even feel especially aroused in the beginning; again, pace yourself. Your sexual response is just like any muscle – it needs to be worked and trained for it to remain in good shape. This goes for people who are younger as well – work out your sexual muscles!
“Great sex is what’s happening between two souls, two minds, two hearts – not just two bodies,” says Price in Better Than I Expected. It might not ring completely true at first because people have sex for all different reasons, but to a degree, she is right. Sex is more than just a physical response, though that plays a huge part of it. Sex is also about finding someone who can meet your needs. If you are mentally ready, the rest will follow. Sex and sexual longing doesn’t just die because the culture we live in thinks it should. Amazing, mind blowing sex is there for you, and you just need to take it, a step you have already accepted. Everything else is just bells, whistles, and penetrative objects.
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