Monday, November 22, 2010

No sex, and we can't talk about it

“My wife and I are in our fifties and rarely have sex, about once or twice a year,” John wrote to me. “I cannot talk to my wife about it at all, as I suspect she is not interested.” Here is his story:


Because she never initiates anything I am assuming that she can live without sex. We once went five years of abstinence. This is really a problem for me as I need sex much more frequently. When sex occurs it is not great anyway, following the same pattern each time.

Since menopause my wife finds intercourse painful. Is this just because it’s been a long time since we had sex and the menopause has really kicked in? She never used to find it painful, but I noticed that she does not seem to become aroused much and vaginal fluid has become a thing of the past. Gel did not work either.

John went on to explain that he masturbates a couple of times a week to “fend off the urges that could lead to infidelity,” but he worries that this is harmful and he’s trying to stop. He admits that their sex life in earlier times wasn’t terrific, either -- lights off, no variety -- but they lived with it for the thirty years of their marriage. He continued:


I have racked my brain for a plan of action. I know the hard part is putting it across to my wife in a way which is pleasant and attractive. So my first move is to stop masturbating to stop the urge. I think that if I leave things until I get really desperate, I will have to communicate with her as the only option.


John’s story tugs at so many important concerns: lack of communication and his wife’s vaginal pain, lack of lubrication, and diminished desire. In my new book, Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex, I devote an entire chapter to each of these four problems. I wish I could send him the book now, but it won’t be out until June. Of course I’m not going to make him wait until June to get some direction.


First of all, John, your wife needs to get a medical evaluation for her vaginal pain. There can be several causes (which I go into in Naked at Our Age), and yes, there are solutions! A common cause is the tightening of the vaginal floor muscles after menopause when they don’t get regular practice relaxing through sexual arousal and orgasm. An excellent resource for making vaginal intercourse more comfortable is the Vaginal Renewal Program from A Woman’s Touch.

Please also try different lubricants. I don't know which "gel" you used, but lubricants are very important at our age when our own lubrication decreases. These posts about lubrication will give you more information.

However, you’ve got to be able to talk about this problem in order to fix it! A sex therapist would be a great help here, especially since this isn’t a new problem. Sex therapists are trained to understand what’s preventing you from having a good sex life and offer strategies for improving communication as well as sex itself. This has gone on so long that although I could offer some communication tips, I think you do need a third person listening. If she wouldn’t be willing to go to a sex therapist, a couples therapist would be a good start.

For now, can you say something like this to your wife?

“Our marriage means the world to me, and I would feel happier if we could work on the problems that are interfering with our sexual intimacy. I think we need some help and guidance, because we’re staying stuck on our own. Could we see a doctor about your vaginal pain and talk to a counselor about how to bring intimacy back into our marriage?”

Please see also Yvonne Fulbright’s comments on communicating about sex.


Please realize, John, that there's nothing wrong with masturbation at our age or any age. Our sexual urges tell us that we're fully alive -- they're not our enemy.

I know this is a small answer to a big problem, John, but I hope it will encourage you to take the first steps at talking with your wife openly and lovingly and seeking professional guidance. Would you please let me know what you do and what happens?

8 comments:

  1. You've provided good advise here, Joan. I would add that until she finds a way to deal with her vaginal pain during intercourse (if she is so motivated), it's important to remember that there are a lot of other ways besides penetration to get off. If she was never particularly enthusiastic, as he perceives it, perhaps it has something to do with a focus on penetration - instead of her clit. But ultimately, I think you're right. They've got other things to sort out through talking first.
    Sue

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  2. Sue, absolutely true that there are plenty of satisfying sexual activities that don't involve penetration. Thanks for pointing out that I didn't mention that. But if she's avoiding sex because of the pain and they're not talking about the lack of sex at all, those need to be the starting points.

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  3. Joan,
    I love how you covered so many points succinctly as well as gave so many resources.

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  4. What a thoughtful and comprehensive reply and full of great resources. I am going to share this with my fans as I know this is a very common problem.

    Every man should copy and paste your potential "discussion" with his wife. It's how every serious discussion should start off.

    Thank you Joan, Chrystal

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  5. Don't know if it work for this couple but some ladies enjoy watching men pleasure themselves. She could watch approvingly - or even hold him while he pleasures himself. For even more intimacy, if she was willing, they could share masturbation - watching and being watched while they pleasure themselves together. Most sensual.

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  6. I'm 35 years into a marriage that has produced two incredible sons. My wife was always orgasmic with penetrative sex, not interested in oral. But then after the second baby began to lose interest. By menopause was totally without libido and had cancer and thyroidectomy. Her many other physical complaints: migranes, chronic fatigue, peripheral neuropathy, etc.

    Masturbation is all there is for me if I want to stay in the marriage. But now, after 60 I'm educating myself about all things related to older women, vaginal dryness, hormone therapy (not an option for us due to cancer studies), and sex therapy. And like the poster, communication, it seems, was where I dropped the ball...I didn't want to "bother" her due to her numerous miseries. Big mistake! Now, we're talking about seeing a sex therapist/sexologist and doing the intimacy exercises that are not sexual, but that bring intimacy back between us. I feel we can find common ground and achieve some level of sexual fulfillment, together. Thanks for the resources, Joan. Google is my friend.

    ps. I've joined a gym, excercise at home, too, and walk two miles a day and I have huge amount of energy. Before I was too tired and depressed to even think I could find intimacy. All men should focus on getting themselves to their best physical condition when dealing with stressful aspects like that man is going through (and I'm working through). More self-respect = better chance of success in this.

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  7. W.D., thank you for sharing your experience. I'm so happy that you're communicating and working towards more intimacy. I appreciate your advice to get in the best physical condition possible. Not only is it a stress reliever and self-esteem booster, as you say, but also helps to lift depression, and depression can make one or both people give up on making things better. I appreciate your comment, W.D.

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  8. I do hope this poster is able to get the lines of communication opened up. I am post menopausal, sex has always been good - but things have changed in a big way! Even after 33 years with the love of my life it was and can be frustrating discussing the most simple and yet intimate things - silly, but it happens.
    No more 'quickies' in the movie way - those hot moments of tossing each other onto the bed and going for it - it takes time and patience.


    The renewal program that Joan links to at Woman's touch is such a great idea - it works.

    Penetration is not the absolute entity of intimacy with your partner. If you aren't into oral, a well lubricated finger or vibrator can get things warmed up and even finished up. Perhaps for yourself a sleeve of some sort (frankly I am on the side of those who think it's pretty hot when my man scratches his own itch!)

    This subject is one you may need to treet like a very tasty treat - nibble away at it, rather than dump the whole box of chocolates on the table at once. Tread lightly and be patient.
    Best of luck to you both.

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