A loss of libido is common in later life. Adult sex educator and coach, Ruth Ramsay explains why and how you can spice up your midlife sex life
The best thing that can happen for all our midlife sex lives, is for us to lose the shame and stigma of talking about sex.
As a coach, I often hear the words ‘I can’t believe I am about to tell you this, you will think I am so weird, OMG I am so embarrassed’, before a woman then tells me about something common and normal!
Often the shame arises from a lack of education. As practically none of us had an adequate, empowering, pleasure-focused sex education at school, but we do need to educate ourselves now.
talking about sex isn’t something to be embarrassed about
There is a wealth of great information in books (Check out Come as You Are by Emily Nagoski), podcasts, TED Talks, documentaries – let’s educate ourselves, and tell our partners, friends, mothers and daughters what we are learning.
In-person events have the most power to show us that talking about sex isn’t something to be embarrassed about. I look forward to demonstrating that first-hand, in my talks and workshops at the Postcards From Midlife Festival.
Sex is GOOD for us
A healthy sex life in midlife is good for us physically and mentally. Pretty much all types of sexual play get our heart rate up, and vigorous sex can even count as a cardio and flexibility workout.
Arousal moves blood around the genital organs, which helps keeps tissues oxygenated and healthy. Pleasure and especially orgasms, release feel-good brain chemicals to relax us and make us feel happy.
The above applies even in solo sex! Good sex with a partner helps us feel bonded and keeps us associating each other with pleasure and stress release, which helps make us a better team outside the bedroom too.
READ MORE: Feeling dry down there? Gynaecologist reveals why collagen can help vaginal dryness
What causes a lack of libido in later years?
It’s very common for women to feel they have lost their libido in midlife. We may be dealing with children or teens, ageing parents, busy jobs, and community duties, leaving no time for ‘us’.
Stress, tiredness and a lack of me-time are major libido-killers. Our changing hormone levels can also flatten our libido, and some of the physical changes of perimenopause and menopause – such as breast cysts, flooding periods, aching joints or a dry vagina – may mean sexual play as we knew if before is uncomfortable or painful.
We are also dealing with changing self-perception, as the face and body we see in the mirror changes. It’s no wonder we don’t feel like sex.
The good news is that with awareness and a desire to keep an erotic spark alive in one’s life, we can continue to enjoy sexual play.
And some of the effects of our changing hormones can actually have a positive effect on our sex lives: as oestrogen falls and we care less what others think of us, we may find we are more able to ask for what we want in bed or feel more free to explore interests such as kink or consensual non-monogamy.
Stress, tiredness and a lack of me-time are major libido-killers
Men also experience many of the same factors as women in midlife which affect their libidos. Busy lifestyles, weight gain, struggles with self-perception, and changing hormone levels can wreak havoc.
From around age 40 it becomes not uncommon for men to take longer to get an erection and find when they do, it’s not as hard as it used to be.
For many men this can have a devastating effect on their confidence, and they may feel a lot of shame and embarrassment.
There are less resources for men around midlife sex than for women, but a good one is the book Sizzling Sex For Life by Michael Castleman.
READ MORE: HRT Myth Busting with Dr Louise Newson
Vaginal atrophy and dryness are becoming more talked-about, but plenty more awareness is still needed. Too many women suffer in embarrassed silence, not realising the pain and burning they are experiencing is common and treatment is available.
Linked to that – not directly about sex, but certainly having an impact on our sex lives – is that urinary tract infections can be due to vaginal atrophy.
Too many women suffer in embarrassed silence
Many women get course after course of antibiotics for UTIs, when what they actually need is vaginal oestrogen – now available over the counter at UK pharmacies.
First things first – talk to your partner
If your partner is also in midlife (or beyond), this conversation should be about how both your needs are changing.
Approaching it in this way helps avoid any feeling of pressure on one person. Make it about your mutual pleasure going forward. Choose a time you are both relaxed, and not actually in bed during sex.
Check in that it’s a good time to talk about this, and if you feel shy or embarrassed or anxious, share that. They probably are, too. Tell them your body is changing and you need to start approaching sex differently.
Be clear about what you need and also ask them if they’ve noticed changes in their own body or libido and how you can best continue to give them pleasure.
READ MORE: 8 natural ways to increase libido – a nutritionist’s guide
Here are some tips on how to spice up your midlife sex life…
#1 Find some erotic inspiration
Ask yourself where you are getting erotic inspiration from. Are you seeing tempting portrayals of sex in the films or TV you are watching, books you are reading, websites you’re browsing?
If not, try whetting your sexual appetite by reading some steamy erotic fiction, listening to some audio stories, or exploring ethical porn. This will help spark desire and remind you sex is worth the energy and effort!
try whetting your sexual appetite by reading some steamy erotic fiction
In a couple, try reminiscing about your best sexual memories from your early days together, including what you did, the scents, sounds, sights.
Later in life we are unlikely to just want sex out of nowhere – we need inspiration such as the above to help spark desire.
#2 Find comfortable positions
Being physically comfortable during sex gets more important as we get older. Physical aches, pains, or worries that we are about to do ourselves an injury, are a total turn-off.
Experiment with different positions, using pillows or cushions to help give your body extra support. You could even explore dedicated products – Google ‘sex pillow’ to find various options.
If you are experiencing vaginal dryness which makes penetrative intercourse uncomfortable, the most important thing is to speak up, not to try to bear it. Sex should be pleasurable for you both.
Invest in good quality body-safe lube (see yesyesyes.org for great options) and re-apply liberally. A position when you control the progress of penetration – for example where you are on top – can help you feel less afraid of sudden pain.
READ MORE: THIS is the key to great sex
#3 It’s not all about penetration
Your whole body has the potential to be a sexual playground. It’s of benefit at any age to move away from an obsession on penetrative intercourse, but in midlife we can find it’s essential. It’s this very factor however that can result in your best ever sex!
In fact the heterosexual respondents to the biggest ever survey of sexually satisfied long term couples said that it was challenges around penetrative sex which forced more creativity and so led to their best sex – study by Dr Peggy Kleinplatz and Dana Menard as reported in their book Magnificent Sex.
It’s of benefit at any age to move away from an obsession on penetrative intercourse
There are the ‘traditional’ sexual activities which don’t involve intercourse, such as oral, or using your hands on each other’s genitals. But explore other areas of the body too.
Ask yourself where you think you could develop orgasmic capability, if your genitals were out of action – maybe your neck? Your feet? Your hands?
This can actually happen, in a phenomena called ‘transfer orgasms’, experienced by people with paralysis affecting the genital region. Explore and find your own non-traditional areas of epic sensation.
#4 Be spontaneous and try something new
Sex shouldn’t feel like a chore or a routine – it should provide pleasure, relaxation, maybe excitement, and feel good for you physically and mentally. If it isn’t, then it’s time to reassess what you get up to between the sheets.
Many of us establish a sexual ‘pattern’ of activities early in our relationship then repeat this for years, with no discussion about whether it still suits us.
Typically we designed that pattern around what mainstream media taught us and it may never have been especially satisfying.
Now is the time to break those patterns. Go on a journey of education and discovery: learn about sexual science, explore new interests, find new inspirations.
You can do this by exploring educational podcasts, online documentaries, or online courses such as my Passion8 Programme.
READ MORE: 7 best orgasm guaranteed sex toys
#5 Take pleasure into your own hands
Being single is a great time to revisit what actually turns you on. Explore ethical porn, erotic fiction, courses and workshops.
Always been curious about kink? Learn more about it with an online workshop (check out the WeAreX app).
Always had girl-girl fantasies? Tune in to some female-written, female-directed adult films (Erika Lust’s work is recommended).
Explore sex toys – they have evolved fast in the past few years
Always fancied the idea of tantra but partners weren’t interested? Go along to an in-person masterclass.
Explore sex toys – they have evolved fast in the past few years as more companies employ female designers.
If you aspire to have penetrative intercourse in a future relationship, keep penetration – with fingers or toys – on your solo sex menu to keep the vaginal canal oxygenated and flexible.
Postcards from Midlife Live is a brand-new women’s lifestyle event taking place in London this year, on the 19th and 20th May 2023.
If you liked this interview and would like to see Ruth Ramsay/Dr Louise Newson and other top celebrities, plus boutique shopping and pampering at Postcards from Midlife LIVE visit postcardsfrommidlifelive.co.uk
The Healthista Menopause Pack is a fully comprehensive online video workshop, led by Dr Dawn Harper; affordable, accessible and covering all aspects of the menopause, for those who need it most.
With expert advice and information from seven credible menopause industry experts, we hope that this online resource will help women navigate common health and wellness changes and challenges they may experience before, after and during the menopause.
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