Mindful Sex

Tips and techniques from the front lines of couples therapy.

Aging and Male Sexual Desire Part I: The Journey Ahead

Getting old doesn't necessarily mean the end of a great sex life.

A middle-age couple present for sex therapy is complaining that they are no longer sexually active.  He states that he no sexual drive.  He says he is under stress at work and feels depressed.   His wife is concerned that she is no longer attractive to him.

A 55 year old married executive states that his sex drive is strong but it is difficult to maintain his erection.  His says that his wife lacks interest in sex.  He has begun to entertain thoughts of an affair.

 A 49 year old divorced man with diabetes is fearful of dating.  In his last sexual encounter, he was unable to achieve and maintain an erection.  He now fears failing and humiliating himself if he were to be sexual.

These clinical vignettes are examples of cases that I treat in my role as a sex and couples psychotherapist.  They clearly speak to the issue of aging and sexuality.  This topic of sexuality in the aging man presents a proverbial “good news/bad news” scenario.  We boomers are living and thriving well into our 80’s and 90’s, as our life expectancy has grown generation to generation (good news).  Bad news: In terms of our sexuality, around the half century mark, in the words of Paul Simon, our “tools of love wear down.”  No man escapes what the Buddhists would call “impermanence”.  In healthy men, around the fifth and sixth decade of life, symptoms or aging or dysfunction begins to happen (in both men and women mind you) which alters, changes, diminishes, and sometimes attenuates sexual function.  In the following four part series, I hope to inform the reader, both men and women, of some the physical and psychological issues relevant to the topic of male aging and sexuality.  My objective is to provide some useful information as to what normal male aging looks like.  If we have knowledge we’re better prepared to cope with the many changes to sexuality that accompanies aging.  My plan is to cover a range of issues that impact on desire including age, testosterone level, erectile dysfunction, illness, and medication.   I will also discuss how a particular way of paying attention called Mindfulness can be an extremely positive and helpful mental attitude that helps with coping with sexual changes and issues and with the aging process in general.

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When you study and treat sexual dysfunction, it soon becomes abundantly clear that many factors impact on sexuality and that you cannot isolate the purely physical/medical issues from the emotional.  Sex also takes place between two people so the quality of the relationship is also of immense importance when trying to understand sexual dysfunction.  Now throw in attitudes, religion, and cultural influences and it really gets convoluted.  We are one complicated species and the physical (body) is always bumping up against and affecting the mind and vice versa.  Sexual desireis a product of an interaction between biology (hormonal), thoughts that generate the wish to behavior sexually, and emotions that drive our motivation that result in a willingness to behave sexually.  This psychological dimension is very much influenced by attitudes about sex (e.g. “older people are neither attractive nor sexual”) and the quality and satisfaction of the relationship.

In the adaptation to the ever changing conditions that characterize the aging process, there is an attitude of the mind derived from Buddhist Psychology called Mindfulness that serves to expedite the coping and adaptation process.  When Mindful, we can be present and non-reactive to whatever difficulty falls in our path.  Mindfulness helps us step back from negative judgment and helps us to be more accepting of the moment whatever it brings.  On the other hand, if one tries to “hold on,” denying the inevitable, more resistance is generated which ultimately results in more pain and suffering.  Applying this to the topic at hand, if you are aware of the predicted changes to be encountered regarding sexual function and desire in the aging process, and if mindful,  you can choose to be more accepting. You can practice letting go of what cannot be avoided or changed (the aging process) and continue to remain sexual despite the age-related diminishment of function.  Sexuality can thus be perpetuated into the ninth inning so to speak.   In Part II,  I will discuss what the research says about desire and aging in men.  Does old necessarily mean not sexual?  How does the body changing as we age impact on our sexual functioning?  What lifestyle factors can help us retain our sexual functioning into mid-life and beyond? 

 

 

Dan F. Pollets, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist and certified sex therapist. more...

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