The idea that men and women are supposed to become knowledgeable and competent in their sex lives by merely growing older is a misconception and a disservice to relationships. And, 50 years after the so-called “sexual revolution,” many people remain too shy to discuss questions about sexuality with their healthcare providers and too embarrassed to tell their partners what they do and don’t enjoy. Despite that it can be a difficult subject to broach and despite, also, that cultural and religious differences cause tremendous variety in what people consider to be a healthy sexual relationship, it is possible for all people from all walks of life to experience an enjoyable, safe, and comfortable sex life if it is their hope to do so. This article speaks to the role of sexual relationships after young adulthood has passed and life includes children, job stress, aging parents as well as divorce or medical conditions.

Established relationships

In a time of instant gratification, an abundance of shiny new toys at every turn and a tendency for folks to post the most intimate details of their private lives on the vast social network, it’s hard not to feel like everyone is doing better than us sexually and otherwise. But in research labs and the gynecologists’ offices, the walls could tell a different story. When it comes to sexual relations in long-term established partnerships, most couples report at least some desire for change. But here’s the bigger and far more important news: the majority of these same couples report deep satisfaction with their relationship overall.

The truth is that desire and lust typically decline over time hopefully to evolve into deep companionship and more comprehensive intimacy. This is normal and natural. Frankly, if everyone maintained their adolescent sex drive, humans would accomplish very little and over-population would be catastrophic. Accepting this (not feeling thrilled about it, but accepting it) and relinquishing the notion that there is something “wrong” with you or your relationship is a first step in reclaiming it. Instead of comparing themselves to others, those partners who can focus on each other, discuss their mutual needs and hopes, and come up with a sexual relationship that mostly meets both their needs tend to find the peace and joy available in a mature relationship.

Of course this isn’t always the case and resentments, jealousies and punishing thoughts can arise around discordant visions of a healthy sexual relationship. This article does a great job of describing many common situations: If you find that any of these sound too familiar, you might find couples therapy a useful tool to help your relationship over the bump.

However the dialogue comes about (on your own or with a therapist), clearly the most gratifying sexual relations in established partnerships are those that are carefully designed to meet both member’s changing physiologic and emotional needs and to do this without judgment or resentment.

New relationships

Much of the available material on new sexual relationships is geared toward young people on the cusp of their first sexual encounter. While this may not be your current place in life, those lessons bear repeating and can be refined and fine-tuned throughout life and especially if you are entering a new relationship at a more mature stage of life. A feeling of safety is important to any sexual relationship. This includes, but is not limited to, knowing that your partner has been tested for and has revealed to you any known history of sexually transmitted infections. While it is ideal if a partner has no history of any infection, it’s simply a fact of growing older that many people have been exposed to infection and some of these people don’t even know their status because they’ve never had symptoms. For example, the human papillomavirus and the herpes virus are extremely common with more than 50% of the population having the former and about 20% having the latter.

In this light, the concept of “safety” becomes not so much a guarantee of a flawless bill of health but rather a guarantee that the initiation of sexual activity is grounded in honesty and a sense that if problems do occur (like an abnormal pap test for the woman which could indicate a new HPV infection), the relationship is solid enough and mature enough to address the problems together. Condoms are always the most reliable (though not perfect) protection against infection but even mature adults seem to still have trouble negotiating this subject. It seems especially difficult for those who no longer require birth control (either through a permanent birth control option or through menopause). There’s no more direct way to say this than to use the same language we use with young women: if you are not able to negotiate condom use, then you are not ready to have sex. Condoms are mutually respectful in a new relationship. And, if both partners grow to agree that they are comfortable without condoms (and the issue of contraception is covered) then the patience and respect you’ve shown each other up to that point will surely pay off in a growing sense of commitment.

With so many options available, there is no good reason to risk an unintended or unwanted pregnancy. While it falls upon both partners to assure consistent and reliable contraception, most methods of birth control are geared toward women so please see your provider before initiating a new relationship. With an honest and frank discussion about these two issues (pregnancy prevention and STIs), partners are providing for each other a safe place to enter a new relationship. The safety comes not only from the knowledge gained, but more so from the process of discussing difficult topics.

But what about. . .?

There are so many issues that arise within the subject of healthy sexuality that it is impossible to address them all in a single article. Low libido, erectile dysfunction, sexual addictions and compulsions, pornography, opinions regarding masturbation, sex during and after pregnancy, painful intercourse are just some of the many questions that people have.

Each is an important concern and each has tomes of information available both from the Internet (those associated with an established organization such as the NIH or CDC or a hospital/clinic tend to have the most reliable information) and from your provider.

Despite their different subject matter, though, all of these can be addressed within a relationship if there are the few things mentioned above: open and honest communication, a willingness to accept our “less than ideal” vision of our sexual relationship in the name of a mutually satisfactory compromise, and an absolute feeling of safety and well-being in the relationship. Whatever the concern, don’t be afraid to ask your partner and don’t be afraid to ask your provider because the answers are well within your reach.

Physicians and Midwives, an Advantia Health Practice

Physicians and Midwives is a unique collaborative practice you won’t find anywhere else. We have 5 offices for your convenience all across Northern Virginia, including Alexandria, North Arlington, Mt. Vernon, Kingstowne, and Woodbridge. If you would like to be listened to, as well as cared for, then look no further.