How to Have Better Sex in Midlife

middle age couple with dog spending quality time together

Sex in Midlife

Understanding how sex evolves with age is vital to your sexual health and to having great sex well into late adulthood.

Midlife impacts everyone a bit differently and most women experience numerous changes during menopause. Midlife can cause physical, emotional and sexual changes including shifts in hormones, alterations in muscle tone, adjustments in sensory perception, and variations in stamina.

All these factors significantly impact our experience with and perception of intimacy. Having this understanding allows us to flexibly adjust and refine our approaches to intimacy, ensuring that our experiences are both enjoyable and satisfying.

In this episode, we address the common concern from many individuals considering sex therapy, particularly focusing on how sex changes throughout a person's life and what can be done to maintain a satisfying sex life during midlife and beyond. 



What is midlife?

Midlife isn't strictly confined to a particular age range; it's an expansive period that can extend well into the 50s and even early 60s. The onset of midlife varies among individuals, particularly for women who may undergo perimenopausal symptoms a decade before reaching menopause. The complexity of these physical and hormonal shifts can have profound effects on sexual experiences and desires.

In line with this, midlife crisis is also an existential reckoning in this period. It is an introspective evaluation that involves scrutinizing the choices you've made thus far and contemplating what the next chapter of life should entail. It often prompts a reevaluation of relationships, careers, and personal fulfillment, including one's sexual experiences.

Moreover, as people approach midlife, their desires and expectations concerning intimacy also evolve. The intensity and immediacy of arousal and desire experienced in youth are notably diminished. It takes more time, effort, and deliberate stimulation to achieve the same levels of arousal. Understanding and adapting to these changes become crucial to maintaining a fulfilling sex life during midlife and beyond.

How sex changes in midlife due to physical and health changes.

Sexual intimacy in midlife is much different than it was when we were younger.

  • Our bodies are different
  • We have health challenges
  • We want different things from intimacy than we did when we were younger

There are many changes surrounding sex during midlife caused by physical and other health factors. As individuals progress into their 40s and beyond, physical changes become more apparent—skin may sag, body composition alters with shifts in fat distribution, and muscle tone may diminish. 

A critical element of midlife changes is health-related challenges, which can significantly influence a person's sexual well-being. Chronic pain, stemming from various health conditions, can be relentless and detrimental to both physical and emotional aspects of intimacy. Conditions such as breast cancer, autoimmune diseases, and prostate issues can further complicate the ability to engage in sexual activities, creating a significant hurdle to overcome. These changes can significantly impact how individuals perceive and engage in sexual activities.

A big mistake that harms your sexual satisfaction.

One of the biggest mistakes that people make is failing to adjust expectations to align with the changes that come with aging. It is understandable that there are still those who cling to the notion of recapturing the wild and passionate sexual encounters of their youth without acknowledging the need for adjustments in approach and mindset. However, recognizing and embracing these changes can be transformative in ensuring and cultivating satisfying and enjoyable intimacy throughout the midlife phase and even beyond that. In fact, many older couples say they are having the best sex of their lives.

Common mistakes in midlife sex and the importance of communication.

One significant mistake individuals approaching midlife make is the lack of communication with their partners regarding evolving preferences and dislikes in sexual intimacy. They often neglect discussing how their needs and desires have transformed since their younger years, resulting in having the type of sexual activity they don't enjoy. They don’t talk about sex and what they want and need and what they DON’T want at this stage of life, so they put up with sex they don’t want or they stop having sex.

This tolerance for dissatisfying experiences leads to a decrease in sexual desire and, in some cases, a complete cessation of sexual activity. Over time, couples may transition into a roommate-like relationship or engage in infrequent, pressured sexual events. The solution lies in fostering open communication about one's sexual desires and evolving needs, particularly during the midlife phase, to ensure a more fulfilling sexual life.

Additionally, many individuals fail to address preexisting or new sexual issues in their relationships as they approach midlife. Unresolved problems tend to worsen with age, and can be compounded by new challenges like menopausal dryness and pain, or erectile dysfunction. Tackling sexual concerns openly and proactively is vital for a fulfilling and sustained sexual relationship throughout one's life.

Improving midlife sex with emotional maturity, communication, and self-care.

Sex during midlife can be exceptionally rewarding due to emotional maturity, improved communication skills, and shifts in perspective. Emotional growth enables individuals to express feelings, connect deeply with their partners, and enhance desire through a closer relationship. Moreover, those who prioritize pleasure and connection over mere sex and orgasm tend to maintain a healthy and satisfying sexual life as they age.

Communication skills play a pivotal role in fostering a better understanding of each other's desires and needs. Open dialogue about sexual preferences and boundaries nurtures an honest and fulfilling sexual relationship. As people age, sex evolves into a more profound and meaningful experience, emphasizing closeness and connection with a long-term partner.

Additionally, investing in the friendship and emotional intimacy you have with your partner is crucial to nurture and grow your sexual relationship during midlife. Engaging in activities together, cultivating shared interests, and spending quality time help maintain a strong bond. Moreover, placing a strong emphasis on your overall well-being, which includes both your physical and mental health, is crucial for maintaining a healthy and fulfilling sex life within the context of a holistic approach to your overall wellness.

As a Certified Sex Therapist, I recommend couples redefine sex away from intercourse and orgasom to activities that cultivate pleasure and connection. This paradigm shift allows for continued satisfaction and connection, even when physical challenges such as erectile dysfunction or pain arise. By exploring alternative pleasurable activities, individuals can ensure a fulfilling sexual experience well into their later years, challenging the misconception that sexual satisfaction declines with age.

Sex and relationships in midlife.

Navigating relationship issues and sexual intimacy during midlife entails addressing a range of factors that significantly impact a healthy sex life. One common concern for women is the vaginal dryness or lack of vaginal lubrication experienced by many women due to declining hormone levels during menopause. This issue, often accompanied by hot flashes, mood swings and pain during intercourse can pose challenges to maintaining a good sex life in middle age for both menopausal and postmenopausal women.

In addition to vaginal dryness, midlife may bring about sexual problems such as low sexual desire and changes in sexual response. Men may experience more frequent and more pronounced erectile dysfunction for a variety of reasons including decreased blood flow, stress, lack of a healthy lifestyle and fatigue and may have low testosterone levels. These issues can influence both partner's sexual interest and, consequently, their ability to sustain a satisfying sexual relationship.

However, remaining sexually active in midlife is essential for maintaining healthy intimacy. I've come across vibrant individuals in their 80s who still have and enjoy their fulfilling sex lives, defying any misconceptions about age and intimacy. It's surprising to note that in certain assisted living centers, there's a prevalence of active sexual engagements among the elderly, even leading to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) due to unprotected encounters.

Additionally, there is an increase in urinary tract infections during midlife, necessitating attention to sexual hygiene and communication to mitigate any adverse effects.

3 reasons why sex gets better with age

On the plus side, many couples experience a richer and more enjoyable intimacy as they become empty nesters and reach the middle years. In your twenties, you're often focused on building a career, establishing your identity, and exploring different relationships. In middle age, people may have more stable careers and family responsibilities, which can impact the time and energy available for intimacy.

They enjoy a greater sense of freedom and privacy and are not exhausted from the demands of raising children. These couples tend to cultivate their friendship and emotional intimacy through shared activities and the ability to have meaningful conversations with one another.

Research consistently highlights that as we age, the quality of our sexual experiences tends to improve significantly. Here's why:

1. Emotional Maturity

Growing older often brings greater emotional maturity, influencing the depth of intimacy. Middle-aged individuals, with a more profound understanding of their own needs and emotions, foster more satisfying and stable relationships. The confidence and ease with which they express themselves contribute to a richer emotional connection.

2. Communication Skills

Aging often correlates with the development of enhanced communication skills, a factor that amplifies emotional intimacy in relationships. Middle-aged individuals tend to excel in articulating their feelings and skillfully resolving conflicts, creating a more harmonious and understanding partnership.

3. Sex Becomes More Connecting

Research indicates that sexual satisfaction tends to increase with age. Middle-aged couples may place a higher value on intimacy and emotional connection due to their life experiences and a desire for deeper, more meaningful relationships. In contrast, younger individuals may prioritize novelty and exploration in their relationships.

Middle-aged individuals may experience fewer sexual performance issues and a deeper understanding of their own and their partner's desires. This evolving sexual awareness contributes to a more enriching and fulfilling sexual intimacy.

How to improve your sex in midlife.

Spend quality time with your partner.

Engaging in shared experiences is key to fostering a strong emotional bond and closeness with your partner. As women age, this becomes a particularly cherished aspect of their sexual satisfaction. Building connection through shared activities and meaningful conversations not only enhances the overall relationship but also sparks interest in sexual intimacy.

Prioritize your well-being for a fulfilling sex life.

Taking care of your physical and emotional health plays a pivotal role in sustaining a vibrant sex life. Ensure a balanced lifestyle by nourishing your body with a healthy diet, incorporating regular exercise, fostering a diverse array of relationships, prioritizing sufficient sleep, and effectively managing stress. A holistic approach to well-being contributes not only to your overall health but also positively impacts your sexual wellness.

Reimagine sex beyond intercourse into pleasure and connection.

Shift the focus from conventional notions of sex centered around intercourse to a broader perspective that emphasizes pleasure and emotional connection. Embrace a variety of intimate activities that bring joy and connection, exploring new ways to experience and express intimacy that go beyond traditional expectations. Incorporating sex toys into the bedroom can often enhance pleasure.

Prioritize quality over quantity.

In the realm of sexual intimacy, valuing quality over quantity becomes paramount. Instead of fixating on frequency, emphasize the depth and quality of your intimate interactions. Meaningful connections and shared pleasure contribute significantly to the richness of your sexual experiences, fostering a more fulfilling and satisfying relationship with your partner.

When it comes to advice for clients, I often emphasize the importance of valuing quality over quantity in sexual experiences, particularly as we reach midlife. Quality of sex, in this context, isn't defined by earth-shattering orgasms. Instead, it's about pursuing deeply satisfying and meaningful experiences that foster a profound connection and love for our partners while being pleasurable.

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