Barry McCarthy, Ph.D.

Barry W McCarthy Ph.D.

What's Your Sexual Style?


Beating the Odds

Male sexuality after 60

Posted Sep 30, 2014

The good news is that men and couples can enjoy sexuality into their mid-80's. The bad news is that 1 in 3 men stop being sexual between 60-65 and 2 in 3 between 70-75. Although the drug companies promised that pro-erection medications would resolve all sex problems, this has not proven to be true. The truth is that both the man and the couple need to use all their psycholological, biological, relational, and psychosexual skill resources to ensure healthy couple sexuality in their 60's, 70's, and 80's.

The major cause of male sexual avoidance is he's lost confidence in erections, intercourse, and orgasm. He says to himself" Why start something I can't finish?" Typically he makes this decision unilaterally and conveys it non-verbally, leaving his partner feeling confused and rejected. It is not just intercourse that stops, but he avoids sensual, playful, and erotic touch. Sometimes, this extends to affection, but usually that continues as long as he feels it's "safe"(i.e. not lead to sex).

Avoiding sexual connection because of fear of failure is a self-defeating choice for the man, woman, and couple. It not only subverts relational satisfaction, but also physical health and psychological well-being. Men who remain sexually active report higher psychological well-being, better health, and higher relational satisfaction. Couple sexuality is a good emotional investment, as men who beat the odds and enjoy sexuality in their 60's, 70's, and 80's can attest.

So what can men and couples teach us about sexuality and aging? The traditional model of male sex performance featured spontaneous erections with totally predictable intercourse and orgasm. This worked for men in their 20's and 30's, often became problematic in their 40's and 50's, and definitely was not the right fit for men in their 60's, 70's, and 80's.

There are two keys for healthy sexuality with aging. The first is to turn towards the spouse as his intimate and erotic ally in enjoying a more intimate, interactive, genuine sexual experience. Second, to accept the variable, flexible Good Enough Sex (GES) model. GES is first class male and couple sexuality generally, but especially for men after 60. Sexuality is a team sport focused on sharing pleasure/eroticism rather than an individual pass-fail intercourse performance. Embracing GES and learning to "piggyback" his arousal on her arousal facilitates sexual vitality and satisfaction.

The choice is being a "traditional" man who clings to the old model of perfect intercourse performance or being a "wise" man who embraces GES, values the woman as his intimate and erotic friend, and enjoys sensual, playful, and erotic sexuality in addition to intercourse. The couple accepts the new mantra of desire, pleasure, eroticism, and satisfaction. The key dimension is desire-having positive anticipation, feeling he deserves sexual pleasure with aging, and most important being open to alternative sensual, playful, and erotic scenarios if the sex does not flow to intercourse. Rather than apologizing or panicking, he can enjoy a sensual or erotic experience. Openness to variable, flexible couple sexuality is the core of healthy male and couple sexuality with aging.

Men hope that a medical resource (Viagra, Cialis, testosterone, or a penile injection) will return them to "first class" totally predictable erections and intercourse. That is a medical overpromise. There are two keys to successful medical interventions. First, it can't be a stand-alone intervention-the pill or injection needs to be integrated into their couple style of intimacy, pleasuring, and eroticism. Second, is positive, realistic GES expectations that 75-85% of sexual encounters will flow to intercourse. He does not set himself up for failure by demanding 100% perfect intercourse performance.

Our new book "Therapy with Men after 60," published by Routledge, spells out the psychological, relational, and sexual factors in this challenging life phase. Be a wise sexual man who turns toward his spouse as his intimate ally, shares pleasure and eroticism, and embraces GES.