Since I created the blog category of Intimacy and Aging, one might expect I have some definitive number in mind for when ‘aging’ begins…but I don’t. Because I think… it all depends.
The timeline for my personal aging began in my late thirties, the consequence of an emergency oophorectomy (surgical removal of ovaries). The morning after the operation, a nurse came to my bedside carrying a small white cup containing a capsule of estrogen and one of progesterone. These were pills I now needed to stave off the premature onset of aging my body would go through due to the removal of my ovaries.
Estrogen and progesterone are called the “female sex hormones” because, among other functions, they help lubricate the vagina. Without this lubrication the vaginal walls can become dry, causing pain and discomfort during intercourse. In addition the loss of these hormones can contribute to skin changes, mood shifts, and weight gain. While I knew these facts prior to my surgery, in the midst of my pain I didn’t factor them into my decision to agree to the operation.
A few months later I began to realize the consequences of my unnatural, premature and abrupt ‘menopause’. I had lost much of my desire to have sex; the prospect of painful intercourse is a huge turn-off. And I felt unattractive and “old”—symptoms my mother was experiencing as she approached seventy.
Keith had a similar experience of feeling old and less interested in sex after his prostatectomy at 49. “When they removed my prostate, they removed my desire as well,” he had said. “Now I know how my father feels.”
I cite these personal examples to illustrate the wide spectrum of how a person can define aging. I propose the term can encompass many aspects beyond chronological years.
Here are other examples of the ways life might age us:
- Illness (especially chronic)
- Financial insecurity
- Emotional trauma
- Life style
The list is exhausting. But the important point is, when one feels ‘aged’ – I believe their sexual experience is always impacted in one manner or another. The changes might be subtle. Desire may be lessened, ability to experience orgasm might be impacted; lessened in intensity, or more difficult to achieve. One might experience discomfort, or perhaps there is embarrasement and/or hesitancy in how to engage in intimacy after body alternations.
There is absolutely no definitive chronological age when sex becomes less interesting, less pleasurable or achievable. On the contrary, there are scores of studies documenting men and women engaging in frequent and satisfying sex well into their 80s—many into their 90s, and some in their 100s. And there is scientific documentation that frequent sex can contribute to improved long-term health and increased longevity.
Sex has changed for Keith and me as we’ve aged. It is less frequent, less driven by hormones, and less diverse in physical options. At the same time, it continues to be emotionally and physically intense and satisfying. Experiencing orgasm, with or without intercourse, reduces our stress, sends a calmness throughout our bodies, and rejuvenates our love for one another.
Yes, we have aged. And our love making has aged as well. But we have vowed to continue to make love, with the sole intent of pleasing and pleasuring one another, for as long as our hearts beat.