Some women in midlife have a kind of sexual flowering, enjoying sex more than ever before. Other women have the opposite experience: they feel like they’re shutting down sexually. These are the women who report that, though they love their partners dearly, they’re just not that interested in sex with them anymore.
“In their 40’s and 50’s, women come into their own sense of who they are as sexual beings,” says sex therapist and iVillage sex expert Dr. Patti Britton. When women this age lose interest in sex, she says, “it’s a marker of what’s below the surface.” Hormonal changes can make a woman’s libido nosedive (for more about the impact of hormones on desire, go to http://www.findingourway.com), but so can other factors.
Problems begin with a woman’s sexual self image. “I may feel profoundly disappointed that I don’t meet the idealized image of the hungry, lustful 46-year-old hot mama,” says Dr. Britton. Body image plays a role too, as women in midlife may fight what seems like an uphill battle to keep from sagging and spreading, making them embarrassed to be seen undressed.
Women may also feel disappointed in their marriage or relationship. “The hot time in a relationship is the initial period where it’s discovery time,” says New York psychologist and couple-relationship authority Dr. Joel Block. People open up and let the other person get a sense of who they are. But over the years, people make implicit assumptions about what can and cannot be shared (“the last time I told him something personal, he used it against me in an argument”). “Everything that’s juicy they’ve eliminated,” says Dr. Block. A woman may withdraw from her partner, ending up with a marriage without vitality.
“A relationship is supposed to be about two people that have the courage to be emotionally naked with each other,” says Dr. Block. “To do this, they must build an atmosphere between them that’s emotionally safe.”
Then there’s the overload factor. With work, family obligations, and active social lives, we’re tired at the end of the day. “When you’re middle aged and you have a busy life, don’t count on spontaneity,” says Dr. Block. “Instead, set up a weekly date with each other. It doesn’t have to have an agenda– like we must have intercourse–but it should be an actual date.”
Other tips from Dr. Britton and Dr. Block on reclaiming our sexuality:
“Get rid of negative self chatter,” urges Dr. Britton. Instead of zeroing in on what you don’t like about your body, try to eat a healthful diet and get more physical activity.
Try to speak from your heart with your partner, encouraging him to do the same.
Touch your partner-it doesn’t have to be sexual touch. In her book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Sensual Massage (Alpha Books, 2003), Dr. Britton describes a “touch continuum,” with five levels from healing touch to sexual touch.
It’s okay to be a little flirty.
Allow yourself to have sexual thoughts, and don’t feel guilty if they aren’t about your partner. According to Dr. Block, the most common fantasy for both men and women stars someone else.
Sex is, after all, a part of who we are as human beings, and without it we may feel that something important is lost. If your relationship has cooled off, try these tips and see if you can turn the heat back on.