Aging, and Loving, Gracefully

Intimacy experts offer their best advice for sex past 50.

By Iris McLister I Photo by Luis Sánchez Saturno



Santa Fe New Mexican


Intimacy experts offer their best advice for sex past 50. Living in Santa Fe uniquely encourages self-discovery. Annette Gates, a relationship and sex therapist who practices in Santa Fe, says the City Different’s lifestyle dovetails into sexual discovery. “Santa Fe has an open-mindedness and even a magical quality to it. It’s a place where people get excited about ideas and exploring alternative ways of doing things,” says Gates. There’s no time limit on this sense of discovery either. The National Institute on Aging reports that many older adults find that their sex lives become more fulfilling as they age. According to the institute’s website, couples “may have fewer distractions, more time and privacy, and no worries about getting pregnant. They may also be better able to express what they want and need, which can offer an opportunity for greater intimacy and connection.” However, this time of life also brings emotional and physical changes, and navigating them can involve new techniques. Here Gates and Ginna H. Clark, director of the Human Sexuality Program at Southwestern College, offer four suggestions for navigating love — and sex —in Santa Fe. 1 Spend quality time with the person you know best: you. Loving yourself is the first step to being able to love someone else, and according to Clark, a psychoanalyst and sex educator, “The quality of our sexual relationship with others is really dependent on the kind of relationship we have with ourselves.” Maybe it’s time to take By Deborah Busemeyer inventory of your turn-ons and turn-offs: Do long-held idPehasoatboosutbwyhGataybourileikleaaCndadmonp’toliske still hold true? “We tend to think of sex as the purview of relationship with others,” Clark says, “but it doesn’t cease to exist when we are single.” 2 Lean into interpersonal change. Changing careers. Selling a home. Kids moving out. Kids moving back in. Life is full of potentially stressful transitions, but that doesn’t mean pressing pause on intimacy. “Sexuality isn’t static,” Clark says. “It’s something that asks different things of us at different phases and stages of our lives.” Long-term partners can particularly find themselves moving at different speeds. “It’s important for people in long-term relationships to make a conscious effort not to take each other for granted. Go back to courting each other and let mystery back into your lives,” she says. 3 Kick shame to the curb. Exploring intimacy as it relates to sexual awareness and arousal might require untangling decades-long feelings of shame and guilt. “Shame around sex starts in childhood and can last well into adulthood, and that feeling of shame stays with someone if we don’t find ways to release it and heal ourselves,” Gates says. To find freedom from shame, she suggests trying activities outside your comfort zone. 4 Revamp, reevaluate, or remove long-held expectations. For many people, expectations about work, family, and — you guessed it — sex directly inform their willingness to try new things. According to Gates, “Expectations are disappointments waiting to happen.” Strict rules are necessary in some situations, but adhering to set dos and don’ts around sex can keep people from discovering what really lights their fires. “Move in the world in a way that leaves space to be surprised, to be intrigued, to be curious, and to be seduced,” encourages Clark.