Mature Birds and Bees: Sex In Later Life


In my counseling practice I often share useful ideas from other sources.  For example, Michael Metz and Barry McCarthy, two psychologists with much experience in relationships and sexuality, teach a model of sexual teamwork for more mature couples called "Good Enough Sex" (GES) which I think is extremely useful.

In these days of Viagra and youth culture it's common for people, especially men, to measure successful sex exclusively by an effortless progression from arousal to intercourse to orgasm, even when the natural aging process makes this less likely to occur.  Metz and McCarthy help couples to focus less on mere intercourse and more on intimacy, pleasure and satisfaction.  Erections wax and wane but a value on mutual sharing of intimacy and pleasure can truly warm a cold night.

Sexual activity among older and more experienced men is not generally suited to the fast and urgent style of youth. Instead, a more successful, enjoyable approach arises from:

  • anticipation (thinking about and looking forward to a later encounter), to
  • comfort (approaching sex without anxiety and feeling open to whatever happens),
  • pleasure (including both physical touch and emotional stimulation),
  • arousal (increased blood flow and heart rate, erection and full emotional engagement),
  • erotic flow (willingness to let go physically and emotionally), and
  • intercourse as a natural extension of the pleasuring process.

A truly mature man can accept and even embrace the fact that it doesn't have to be a big deal if sex doesn't end in intercourse.  A guy can be happy and comfortable with an erotic, non-intercourse scene or even a "rain check" for later.  A range of pleasure is quite possible even when the baility to have an erection happens to "take a break."  This style of sex weathers the years far better than the young-stud approach many men desperately cling to.

Metz and McCarthy emphasize the fact that the quality of sex in a committed relationship is inherently variable.

"Sex is an interpersonal process......and is dependent upon all the emotional complexity and flux of any connection between two distinct personalities.  In any relationship, therefore, sex will exhibit as many moods, colors, flairs, and profiles as the relationship itself."

It's important for couples to realize that less than half of all sexual encounters result in both partners experiencing high levels of desire, arousal, orgasm  and satisfaction. Even the happiest couples experience mediocre or even lousy sex from time to time.

"The resilient couple can revel in the great times, take some pleasure from the mediocre times, and accept with equanimity the times of distinctly ungreat sex.  Therefore, the most realistic approach for couples seeking a happy sex life is to focus on establishing an overall pattern of desire, pleasure and satisfaction, and not to expect peak sexual performance on every occasion, or even on many occasions."

Metz and McCarthy teach that sex has five main, interconnected goals:

  1. to share pleasure and enjoyment;
  2. to deepen intimacy and satisfaction;
  3. to reduce or alleviate the emotional stresses inherent in sharing a life;
  4. to reinforce and even enhance each partner's self-esteem, and
  5. to fulfill the traditional biological function of procreation.

It's helpful for couples to realize that it's normal to have sex for one or more of these reasons and that each partner may have a different set of "agendas" at any particular time.  This recognition reduces one-dimensional, restricted ideas about what sex"should" mean.  Maintaining a more realistic and flexible attitude toward sex allows each person to relax, accept each other's differences and appreciate the range of meanings that sex has at different times. 

Healthy sexual interactions are greatly influenced by other aspects of the relationship that occur "upright and with clothes on."  Trust, mutual acceptance, sharing of pleasure, freedom of expression and deep valuing of the relationship are the engines that power sexual fulfillment.  When these are present there is no reason for the sexual expression to stop at any time in life, regardless of age or physical functioning.


If I can provide more personal assistance to you, either in person, by phone or via Skype, please don't hesitate to contact me.