5 Myths About Libido for People Over 50
Learn the facts about things you can do to keep your sex life enjoyable and fulfilling
By the age of 50, less than half the population is still having partnered sex. There are many reasons why, including hormone changes, marital strife, being single and the stressors of middle age. Another culprit not typically cited in the research — possibly because it's not offered as a survey question — is hopelessness.
I'm talking about how, at the first signs of declining excitement or functional mishaps, many formerly amorous folks make a sexual retreat. "This is what happens with age," they might say. "There's nothing to be done."
I experienced this resignation myself entering my 50s. As intercourse became more difficult (it had always been somewhat painful for me), I found little motivation to engage.
"As we age, our needs, pleasures and comfort may change, and we need to adapt."
On the other side of this slump was my situation: I'd recently gotten married for the first time — after 30 years searching for love. Didn't I deserve all that romantic partnership had to offer?
A yearning for connection won out and I began working with therapists, many of whom derided my quest. "Accept that you're just not a sexual person," one therapist told me.
Erroneous information about sensuality, I realized, was rampant, even among doctors and therapists. Five myths, in particular, seemed to undermine boomers of all sexual orientations who want to fix intimacy problems in the bedroom. Debunking these myths became my passion and my profession.
Here is fiction versus fact for anyone in our age group:
Myth 1: Hormone Treatments Are Dangerous
Fact: Although hormone replacement therapy is the gold standard in remedying painful intercourse in women, a major libido destroyer, less than 10% choose this help, mostly because of cancer fears.
"Estrogen, in most instances, is perfectly safe," says Dr. James Simon, a gynecologist, sexual medicine doctor and the only physician to hold presidencies in both the North American Menopause Society and the International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health.
Referencing an older study that spooked many doctors and patients, Simon emphasizes that newer research shows no increased link between cancer and short-term hormone therapy, especially when estrogen is administered directly into the vagina (often as a cream or suppository).
Testosterone, likewise, is considered safe for libido issues in most men, and possibly in women, Simon adds.
Simon says women who have a higher risk for breast cancer or other conditions should talk to their doctors about treatments. However, they may also need to do some of their own research, since health providers may not be up to date on the new findings.
Myth 2: Hormone Changes Are the Only Thing That Kills Libido
Fact: On my journey, too many practitioners warned that a platonic existence was inevitable purely because of natural hormone depletion. And yes, testosterone and estrogen can diminish sex drive, directly and indirectly.
Yet, hormones are only part of a huge puzzle, according to a Finnish study that found biological, psychological and social reasons why a person may turn away from physical intimacy; there are also things like poor body image, relationship conflict, disease, lack of erotic imagination and even emotional immaturity.
"Sex changes, but it certainly does not need to end."
Bottom line: People should look at all life areas to see what's tearing down their sex drive and where it can be rebuilt.
Sometimes simple solutions — like a new fitness regimen or a weekly date night — can work magic.
Myth 3: Desire Is Spontaneous
Fact: Noted sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson, in the 1960s and 1970s, suggested libido arises out of nowhere. In other words, it's spontaneous.
"Not necessarily," says Joanne Bagshaw, a sex therapist and author of "The Feminist Handbook."
"Only about twenty-five percent of women in long-term relationships [partnered with someone of the opposite sex, the same sex or a gender non-conforming individual] experience spontaneous desire," she says.
Bagshaw is referring to an updated human sexuality model created by Rosemary Basson, which argues that a hunger for sensual activity begins after someone has already started fooling around.
"Desire follows arousal," Bagshaw explains, adding that many people, as they age, believe they have low libido, when they really don't. "They just need more time getting warmed up," she says.
She advises her clients with female genitalia to spend 20 to 40 minutes on just arousal activities, perhaps using sex toys, even if needing this time or assistance is new for them.
Myth 4: Only Men Get Erotically Bored
Fact: Bagshaw told me she spends a lot of time convincing women they are the ones more easily bored in the boudoir — despite societal beliefs to the contrary.
She pointed to a 2011 study that found women in relationships experienced lowered desire for their partners, consistent with the length of partnership. Interestingly, men's desire stayed the same!
To create excitement — for all parties — Bagshaw recommends sensual adventures. Think costumes, spanking, writing erotica together, anything that shakes things up. Novelty stimulates desire, she asserts.
"The best libido boost around is having our prior rendezvous be great," says Bagshaw.
Myth 5: Sex Has an Expiration Date
Fact: Not so!" says Joan Price, an author, speaker and advocate for ageless sexuality. With popular books like "Naked at Our Age," "The Ultimate Guide to Sex After 50" and an award-winning film on this topic, Price asserts, "Sexual pleasure can be ours lifelong."
She believes we should be open to change, however.
"As we age, our needs, pleasures and comfort may change, and we need to adapt," she says. Needing longer arousal time and more stimulation is common. We may enjoy oral fun, manual delight and toys more than penetrative activities. "Sex changes, but it certainly does not need to end," says Price.
To emphasize her point, she gave me a robust list of health benefits associated with lifelong sexual activity including keeping the sex organs healthy, enhancing mood, relieving stress, reducing aches and pains, strengthening the pelvic floor to prevent incontinence, relieving depression and increasing blood flow to the brain. "Plus, it feels so good!" Price adds.
I concur. It's been 10 years since I began my libido journey, and my desire keeps getting stronger, but only because of the wisdom I've absorbed. I'm now a big fan of libido assistance — everything from hormones to high variety to a slower pace.
I don't see these shifts as hindrances though, only adjustments. Following Joan Price's lead, I'm looking forward to blissful sexual adjustments for life.