The Sex Advice We Should Take From Grandparents

By Elizabeth Bernstein, Jan. 19, 2022 for the WSJ / Image: Yvetta Fedorova 

People in their 60s, 70s and beyond have practice keeping the spark alive. Here’s how they do it.

Could your sex life be better? Ask grandparents for advice. Anyone who can keep the spark alive well into his or her later years has wisdom to share, and that insight is especially useful now, when the stress of the pandemic has taken a toll on intimacy for many of us.

Some lessons from seniors who have stayed happy in the bedroom: Don’t focus on intercourse alone. Schedule time for romance. And adjust your expectations.

“With age, you learn that sex has lots of roles, meanings and outcomes,” says Barry McCarthy, a retired sex therapist and co-author of “Couple Sexuality After 60: Intimate, Pleasurable and Satisfying.” “It isn’t just this simplistic pass-fail test of intercourse or orgasm.”

Research shows that seniors who remain sexually active—and sexually satisfied—focus on the quality of lovemaking, not the quantity. Sex later in life is more about connection, and the giving and receiving of pleasure, rather than performance, says Dr. McCarthy.

Seventy-six percent of adults age 65 to 80 said that sex is an important part of a romantic relationship at any age, and 54% of those in a romantic relationship said they were currently sexually active, according to the University of Michigan’s National Poll on Healthy Aging, which published results of a survey on senior sexuality in 2018.

How do seniors keep their mojo going?

One key: They accept that there is more to sexual activity than intercourse. In reporting this story, I heard from folks in their 60s, 70s and older who said they spice things up by reading erotic literature together, trying new positions and practicing spontaneity. (“Jump into the bath or the shower unannounced!” said one.)

Keeping a sense of humor ranked high on seniors’ list of sexual strategies. One new couple in their 70s got a good laugh—and was finally able to relax—when her hearing aid blared “battery low!” during the first time they made love.

In Cincinnati, a 60-year-old single sales representative waits in a bubble bath for her date to arrive. “Get right to it!” she says. A 67-year-old cardiologist in New Jersey says his favored method of foreplay is “a gentle, soft, up-close and tight hug.” A 60-year-old business owner in Mill Valley, Calif., says she is careful to say “thank you” when her partner pleases her.

In North Palm Beach, Fla., a 65-year-old retired business owner watches “tasteful” sex videos with her husband. A 68-year-old business owner in Wheeling, W.Va., says he has learned that “romance begins before the bedroom.” His go-to gesture: Singing Lou Rawls’s “A Natural Man” to his partner before dinner. And in Bethesda, Md., a 72-year-old foundation president treats his wife like a new partner, asking her what she likes.

For more sex tips from seniors, I talked to therapists and a senior-sex advocate. Here’s what they had to say.

Schedule it

“Spontaneity is vastly overrated,” says Joan Price, an author and speaker whose books on senior sexuality include “Sex After Grief.”

Ms. Price suggests having sex during the day, when you’re less tired. (Good news: Remote work can make this easier.) She also advises people to pay attention to their “tingle time,” the period of the day when they feel most sexually arousable or responsive. If your time differs from your partner’s, schedule lovemaking sessions for each of you to receive pleasure, without any expectation of reciprocation. And remember: Arousing your partner is often enough to get you aroused.

Take your time

Young people fixate on sexual performance while older people make sharing pleasure their focus—which takes time, says Dr. McCarthy.

Seniors have learned to go for the slow windup, often by necessity, he says. You should think of touch on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is affectionate touch, 2-3 is sensual, say a foot rub, 4-5 is playful and flirty, such as teasing touch, and 7 and higher is erotic and intense emotions and sensations. Dr. McCarthy recommends spending a lot more time in the middle of the scale, rather than rushing to the goal line.

“The whole experience is sexual, not just the intercourse,” he says.

Accept, then adapt

Accepting our bodies is hard, especially now. Many seniors with satisfying sex lives don’t judge themselves or their partners, experts say. Instead, they appreciate what their bodies can do together.

“Celebrate what works now,” says Ms. Price.

Having a tougher time getting aroused because you’re stressed? Take more time for foreplay. Need more stimulation? Buy a new toy. Too tired after a long day? Try what one of my friends calls a “matinee performance” in the afternoon.

Be active, not passive

Younger adults often have a “you please me, I’ll please you” attitude to sex, experts say. Older people with fulfilling romantic lives aren’t passive.

“Whether they are giving or receiving pleasure, older people are active in knowing what they want and asking for it,” says Ms. Price. “No one is a follower.”

Seniors with satisfying sex lives try to make it easy for their partner to communicate with them. (Experts suggest questions such as “What would you like me to do now?”) They discuss challenges and solutions. And they don’t stop experimenting.

The discovery process is much of what makes sex exciting when you’re younger or with a new partner. Try to keep that same spirit as you age, says Daniel Watter, a psychologist, marital and family therapist in Parsippany, N.J., and past president of the Society for Sex Therapy & Research.

“An ongoing, enjoyable sex life is the province of the curious,” he says.

Follow by Email