Barry McCarthy, Ph.D.

Barry W McCarthy Ph.D.

What's Your Sexual Style?


What 60-Year-Old Couples Can Teach Young Couples About Sexual Desire and Satisfaction

The key to eroticism is freedom and choice.

Posted Aug 10, 2011

Our culture, especially movies and music videos (not to mention porn sites), puts a premium on youth, illicitness, eroticism, and "hot sex". This is a seductive, enticing image, but is it true?

Sixty year old married or serious couples are turned-off by these images since they are neither young, illicit, nor erotic sex performers. However, healthy older couples can and do value intimacy, pleasuring, and eroticism and report high levels of sexual desire and satisfaction. The major things older couples can teach young couples are the value of each person owning his/her sexual voice and working together as an intimate team, value shared pleasure rather than individual sex performance, integrate intimacy and eroticism into your couple sexual style, value both mutual sexual experiences as well as asynchronous sexual encounters, adopt the variable, flexible Good Enough Sex model rather than be controlled by the goal-oriented performance model of intercourse and orgasm as a pass-fail  test, and maintain positive, realistic sexual expectations (which include that it is normal for 5-15% of sexual encounters to be dissatisfying or dysfunctional).

When I teach the human sexuality course to college undergraduates, I let them know that not only   is there sex after college, but that they can enjoy sexuality in their 60's, 70's, and 80's. Erotic sexuality is all about playfulness, creativity, mystery, unpredictability, and a sense of individual and couple vitality. "Hot sex" is not a stand-alone phenomenon. If sexual vitality is to outlast the initial romantic love/passionate sex/idealized phase (which typically lasts 6 months and not more than 2 years), you need to integrate intimacy, pleasuring, and eroticism. Each couple develop their unique erotic style (sexually one size never fits all-this is especially true of eroticism). The key to eroticism is freedom and choice, including openness to taking emotional and sexual risks with your intimate partner. It is not about proving something to yourself or your partner or sexually performing for your partner. This is not a matter of semantics, but a core sexual concept that older couples accept and value. For example, the same erotic technique (engaging in multiple stimulation while giving oral sex) motivated by performance/acting to impress the partner as opposed to the " give to get" pleasure approach will have a very different impact on your relationship. The performance/acting motivation raises a question of how to up the performance to keep it "hot". The sharing pleasure/eroticism motivation allows the couple to enjoy playful, erotic scenarios and techniques in the context of an intimate, secure relationship.

Perhaps the most important difference between "hot sex" performance and sharing playful/erotic sexuality is how you react to dissatisfying or dysfunctional encounters. An intimate, vital couple san laugh or shrug off negative sexual experiences while "hot sex" couples feel panicked, apologize, and pressure to compensate for the negative experience.

Older couples emphasize emotional and sexual acceptance and "going with the flow". Of course, they prefer mutual, synchronous experiences where both partners experience desire, arousal, orgasm, and satisfaction, but this is not a demand or mandate. Good Enough Sex is sometimes hot, sometimes mutual, sometimes better for one partner than the other, sometimes playful, sometimes asynchronous, sometimes cuddly, and yes, sometimes dissatisfying or dysfunctional. The key thing older couples can teach young couples is to value, intimacy, pleasure, sexual play, eroticism, and Good Enough Sex rather than view hot sex as an intercourse and orgasm pass-fail performance test.