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Sex in the Second Half of Life

What are the keys to staying sexual at midlife and beyond?

This week Miley Cyrus made headlines by declaring that sex was basically over once one passed 40.

There was some discussion in my local sex therapy community about whether or not Miley was being entirely serious. But sex in the second half of life is a topic that gets a lot of attention these days.

The next day I found myself invited to the Manhattan studio of Inside Edition to discuss middle aged sex—and to what extent it still exists. In previous articles we've dealt with such midlife-related related subjects as

-- how to keep sexual passion alive when you're too busy or tired, and

-- how to have good sex when the male partner no longer gets spontaneous erections.

These subjects have been on a lot of people's minds lately.

I remember at 20 wondering about whether older people still had sex. Now after 25 years as a sex therapist, I'm pretty convinced that they do. Either that, or a lot of older people in my office have been paying a lot of money just to make me seem foolish.

But things do change over the decades. Most 20 year olds, if offered a choice between sex and sleep, would regard it as a no-brainer and choose sex every time. Later in life, things begin to look different. Sex can always wait. It's sleep that's precious and not to be refused if offered.

Somewhere between the birth of one's first child and retirement, there is a subtle shift from needing sex to merely wanting it. One becomes more discerning: It's not just sex that one wants; it's good sex, sex that takes you someplace special and makes you feel genuinely good about yourself.

For many couples, a satisfying sex life in middle age and beyond is one of life's greatest rewards. To be deeply known in both the emotional and biblical sense is for most of us an important ingredient in feeling fully alive.

Whether couples continue to enjoy sex at midlife and beyond seems to depend strongly on how much they enjoyed it when they were younger. In my office, I encourage young couples to imagine that they have a sexual bank account together. Every time they have good sex, they're making a deposit in that account—the one that contains all their stored memories of pleasure, joy, and gratitude.

Decades later, when sex may be more of a wish than a need—and when getting in the mood may require plenty of rest, careful positioning, some lubricant, and maybe a bit of Viagra—that account can pay handsome dividends for a couple.

Related articles:

Some Open Secrets About Sexual Arousal

Sex Therapist at the Academy Awards: Helen Hunt in The Sessions

Can a Man Make Love Like a Woman?

Copyright © Stephen Snyder, MD 2013 New York City

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