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Sex can be a minefield and it’s easy to give up on it, but many issues are easy to solve. Read our A-Z guide to establishing (and keeping) a great sex life.
A is for Arousal
As women get older, declining levels of sex hormones impact the flow of blood to the genitals, which means sensitivity of the vaginal area may decline and it can take us a lot longer to become and stay aroused enough to achieve orgasm.
Top Tip: Exercising improves circulation, and regular workouts can help to maintain sexual function through the menopause and beyond.
B is for Blame
When couples stop having sex in midlife, it’s easier to blame physical changes such as hormones, but the truth is often much more mundane. Sexual desire is so closely related to relationship quality that the two things can barely be separated. It is hard to have sex with someone when you feel bored, angry, unsupported, jealous, or that you’re being taken for granted, particularly if we blame our unhappiness on our partner’s behaviour.
C is for Cialis
Viagra has become a household name in the past 20 years but Cialis is a longer-lasting alternative (up to 36 hours, compared with up to six hours for Viagra). This means there is a much more natural window of sexual opportunity.
Top Tip: Men need to make sure they have a healthy heart before taking Cialis or Viagra.
D is for Divorce
In 2016, divorces among the over-50s increased more than any other age group. Before midlife, more women file for divorce, but after the age of 50, men are equally likely to call time on a marriage. Professor Sara Arber at the University of Surrey estimates that for a woman over 65 there is a 10,000/1 chance of getting married, whereas for a man the odds fall to 1,000/1.
E is for Erection
By the time a man is 50, the quality of his erections has started to decline and when they do occur, they may be less firm. Many women interpret an unreliable erection as a rejection, and instead of supporting their partner, they withdraw.
Top Tip: Lend your partner a hand. Manual stimulation really helps to firm up an erection. Jolt yourself out of relationship complacency by imagining who your partner’s ideal mate would be if you were not in the picture.
F is for Frequency
Research at the University of Toronto has established that sex and relationship satisfaction peaks at a frequency of once a week. Any less was associated with lower levels of satisfaction and wellbeing, but having sex 10 or more times a week brought no additional benefits.
Top Tip: Keep tabs on how often you have sex. Visualising your sexual frequency will incentivise you.
G is for Giving Up
The average couple over 50 has sex twice a month. Don’t give up trying!
H is for Health
Women are more vulnerable to infection in midlife because declining hormones makes the tissue lining the vagina thinner and more delicate. This makes it much easier for infections to pass into the bloodstream. People over the age of 45 also have the lowest rate of condom use and as a result, sexually transmitted infections have risen by more than a third in people aged between 50 and 70 since 2005.
Top Tip: If you are in a new relationship, get an online sexual health screening.
I is for Infidelity
It’s difficult to establish precise figures for a behaviour that is almost always kept secret, but infidelity is the leading cause of relationship breakdown. In long-term relationships, infidelity is often a response to personal or relational difficulties. If both partners are willing to take responsibility for their part, it is possible to rebuild a relationship after infidelity.
J is for Just Do It
In women, sexual desire is often responsive, so allowing your partner to initiate sex is the only way to ensure that it happens.
Top Tip: Spend more time on foreplay to give yourself more time to lubricate.
K is for Kissing
Your lips are your most easily accessed erogenous zone and they are packed with nerve endings. Kissing can be a useful shortcut to sexual arousal, and is one of the most efficient and convenient ways for couples to remain sexually intimate in a committed relationship.
L is for Lubrication
As women get older, hormonal changes can lead to a decline in vaginal lubrication, so every woman should invest in some high-quality lubricant. There are loads to choose from, but the Yes organic water-based range with added aloe vera is unscented, feels smooth, doesn’t get tacky and contains no parabens.
M is for Menopause
Declining oestrogen thins the vaginal tissue and decreased blood flow can make it harder to achieve orgasm.
Top Tip: For women who do not have a high risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer, a short blast of appropriately prescribed low-dose HRT can be transformative.
N is for Novelty
The psychologist Arthur Aron advises that couples who want to sustain their interest in each other should change their routine. He advocates high-intensity activities such as roller coasters or horror films because the brain confuses fear-induced physiological signs of arousal – rapid heart beat, adrenaline rush – and sexual arousal.
O is for Orgasm
Orgasm is good for you. Neurochemicals released at orgasm reduce stress and blood pressure, and alleviate depression. Orgasm also improves memory in midlife.
Top Tip: Orgasm boosts oestrogen levels, so regular sex can counter some of the effects of menopause.
P is for Peyronie’s
Peyronie’s disease causes the penis to curve up, down, or to the side, and it predominantly affects men aged 45-60. It’s caused by the development of fibrous scar tissue inside the penis, which can make erections very painful, creating a huge amount of distress and anxiety. In more than a third of men, there is gradual improvement over 12-18 months without any treatment, but some men need surgery to cut out the fibrous tissue.
Top Tip: A study on Sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra and Cialis) and vitamin E tablets found that both help to reduce penile curvature.
Q is for Quickies
Sex doesn’t need to take very long. A 2008 study that questioned sex therapists on the optimum length of time for sex concluded that 3-7 minutes was “adequate”, 7-13 minutes was “desirable” and 10-30 minutes was “too long”.
R is for Romance
Sometimes the only way to jolt yourself out of relationship complacency is to imagine who your partner’s ideal mate would be if you were not in the picture. Who would make him happy and what romantic things would that happy couple do that you are not doing now? Now, put yourself back in the picture and think about whether there are things you could do to be more like that hypothetical “ideal”.
S is for Scheduling
Having a set time for sex can remove the excitement, but if you don’t set aside time for sex, it often slides completely.
Top Tip: If you agree to have sex on a Saturday morning, send each other sexy texts on Friday.
T is for Toys
Every woman should invest in a good vibrator. When it comes to sensation, there are two main options: vibration (buzzy) or sonic pulse (a small plate that moves at the tip, creating a tapping sensation). Developed from the same tech as the sonic toothbrush, it’s not only quieter but delivers a much deeper orgasm.
U is for Urinary Incontinence
As levels of oestrogen decline during menopause, the muscles that control the bladder weaken. Pelvic floor exercises can tighten those muscles.
Top Tip: The Squeezy app from the NHS library reminds you to do your pelvic floor exercises, and has visual and audio features to show you what to do.
V is for Vaginal Atrophy
One of the most irritating side effects of menopause is dry, delicate skin and discomfort during sex.
Top Tip: Get your GP to prescribe Estring, a small ring that is inserted vaginally where it delivers a small, steady stream of local oestrogen.
W is for Weight Gain
Our metabolisms slow by 5% every decade, so we burn about 200 fewer calories a day at age 45, than we did at age 25. Studies show that overweight people have less sex.
Top Tip: Alcohol can be a big culprit for weight gain. Swap wine (159 cals a glass) for Prosecco (86 cals a glass).
X is for X-Rated
When couples watch porn together, research finds that it can have a positive effect on sex and sexual satisfaction for both partners. Problems arise when men watch porn alone – research shows that it “displaces” real sex and leads to less sexual satisfaction for both partners.
Top Tip: If porn isn’t your thing, try reading erotic fiction together instead. It has the same effect.
Y is for Yes
“Yes” is the word you should always (or nearly always) say when your partner asks you for sex. Whether you are tired, grumpy or busy, making time for your partner will cheer you up and strengthen your intimate relationship.
Z is for ZZZZ
Sex makes you sleep better. It lowers cortisol, the stress hormone; increases oxytocin, the hormone that makes you feel connected to your partner; and releases prolactin, the hormone that makes you feel relaxed.