3 Ways Your Sex Life May Change at Midlife
Expert Karen B.K. Chan offers tips on how to maintain intimacy through midlife, and a pandemic.
Karen B.K. Chan, a sex and emotional literacy educator based in Toronto, has plenty of insight into what it takes to maintain intimacy through mid-life … and a pandemic.
“Sometimes sex is the bond that can bring you together,” she says. “When people are longing for connection, longing for another human touch, sex can be the thing that helps you stop thinking about all the other things that are really worrying you and weighing you down. It’s a beautiful distraction.
“At the same time, having poor mental health, having anxiety, going through depression — those are things that actively dampen someone’s sexual connection to themselves or anyone else,” she adds. “Because this is an emotionally fraught time, I think people may find themselves swinging back and forth between the two extremes at different points during the pandemic.”
Here Chan decodes what could be going on if you’re wondering where your sex life has gone (hint: check the laundry hamper).
1. Putting sex on the back burner for now doesn’t meant it has to stay there
“There’s a lot to be said for mid-life. Many women begin to feel more confident and comfortable, and less self-conscious. When all those things come together, it can mean more sexual satisfaction. At the same time, having a family, balancing work and relationships and child care, maybe caring for elders (worrying about them, certainly) and juggling a lot of financial stressors — all of that often means sexuality and sexual connection become very low on the priority list. There’s a lot of societal pressure to be a woman who has all of everything: She works out, eats well, has a great connection with her kids, has a healthy relationship and has a thriving sex life. Who is that person?
Most likely, the people available to you as sexual partners are playing multiple roles. Maybe they’re also your life partner and your children’s other parent. That can complicate sex lives. After going through family crises or child rearing together, it’s hard to look at each other sexually, because it requires some objectification. It actually requires some unfamiliarity, and with somebody who is super familiar, that’s nearly impossible. It’s not an easy thing to say, Oh, yes, the person I chose to be my partner 15 years ago, who I’m raising kids with, who I’m mad at because he or she won’t do the dishes or keeps bringing that stuff up about family — that’s the person I have to somehow find a sexual fire for. That’s a tall order. And then add to that all of the extra stressors of living through a pandemic.
Just know: If sex is on the back burner, that’s okay, and it does not mean this is the end of your sex life. For many people, a resurgence happens when some of these life stressors ease up.”
2. Let go of expectations
“Sex isn’t necessarily going to be the same thing you’ve always known. It may be more awkward than it used to be. Let that be okay, because what you’re after isn’t the same thing either. Find joy within that new reality. Once you’ve decided to be intimate, you may expect to feel excited, but you should also expect to feel anxious. Especially if/when it’s been a while. Just notice that you’re anxious. Acknowledge it, and don’t let yourself think, “it’s not working — it’ll never work.” No. It means you’re human.
Another thing: One of the biggest myths is that people have orgasms together. The large majority of couples having sex do not and may never have orgasms together. By the time one of you has an orgasm, the other one might say, ‘I’m actually so tired, I’d like to go to sleep. That would give me a lot of pleasure.” Do not equate that with, ‘I don’t want you.’ ”
3. Banish the mood killers
“Everyday cues, from the overflowing laundry hamper to the garage door that hasn’t been fixed, can increase stress and decrease your desire for sex. People talk a lot about how to get things going again, but what they don’t pay enough attention to is the things that dampen their intimacy. They focus on the accelerators — What new things can we add? Should we watch something that’s erotic? Should we talk dirty? — instead of what’s causing them to pump the breaks. The teenagers thrashing about in the other room are a dampener. The pile of dishes in the sink. The overflowing laundry hamper. That tense conversation you haven’t finished. Look at your key dampeners to see if any of them can be removed or set aside for a few hours one night.”
*This interview was edited for length and clarity.