Is sex important as we age?

When it comes to living a long, healthy and happy life, one thing is crucial. “All you need is love,” sang The Beatles – and they may be right. What seems to be most important to our ongoing good health is making and retaining significant personal connections in our lives. Many of us achieve this by finding compatible men and women and forming lasting intimate partnerships.

As part of a strategy to slow aging, it makes sense to put aside time and energy to foster and maintain our key relationships. These connections offer health benefits at least as important as those that flow from adopting healthy diets. Better still, combine a slow meal with a loved one or take a long walk with a friend.

Slowing sex down

It is often said that sex makes us younger. This is not just about having the kind of relationship or vigor that makes frequent sex possible. Sex itself has effects that may be considered life enhancing. Indeed traditional Tantrism doctrines speak of sexual ecstasy as a path to rejuvenation. However the number and frequency of orgasms are not the only factors that determine how beneficial physical intimacy is to our health.

Sex is not a chore, nor is it a requirement for a loving relationship. For it to be ‘slow’, it must be a positive experience. If we let our expectations of failure or other negative emotions drain the joy from sex, we also lose many of its potential health and wellbeing benefits. In fact, the health benefits of physical intimacy are closely linked to the degree of satisfaction we get from the experience.

Appropriate goals for sexual satisfaction

Achieving satisfying sex means satisfying the goals and targets we set for it. We often put undue focus on a single performance goal (such as one partner’s orgasm, or mutual orgasms), whereas the whole is probably more important to our overall satisfaction – and orgasms are far more likely when we feel a general sense of wellbeing.

One slow way to better sex is changing our conceptualizations. One of the common slow themes in this book is our emphasis on quality over quantity.  For example, traditional Tantric practices advocate non-goal-oriented sexual experiences, in which foreplay is prolonged and performed for its own sake, rather than as a means to an end.

Plan time just for you and your partner, away from kids, friends and family.  Schedule ‘couple time’ so that the demands of your life don’t interfere with intimacy and sex doesn’t start to feel like a chore that has to be fitted in between taking out the garbage and falling asleep. Sex can mean a long, sensuous session or a satisfying quickie. Discuss with your partner what works for you both and mix it up.

It is important that we give ourselves adequate time to enjoy sex. Try setting aside special times and creating a sense of place and purpose for sex, evoking all our senses. Sex should take its time and may require us to engage in more, not less, foreplay as we grow older. That does not mean avoiding spontaneity, but just as we take time to prepare a meal or enjoy life in general, we should be willing to take our time having sex. Why rush a good thing?

Last Reviewed 02/Mar/2014

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Dr Merlin Thomas

Professor Merlin Thomas is Professor of Medicine at Melbourne’s Monash University, based in the Department of Diabetes. He is both a physician and a scientist. Merlin has a broader interest in all aspects of preventive medicine and ageing. He has published over 270 articles in many of the worlds’ leading medical journals
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