We recently had the opportunity to talk with sex therapist, author and radio host Dr. Laurie Betito about her book, The Sex Bible For People Over 50: The Complete Guide to Sexual Love for Mature Couples (available for sale on Amazon). This guide serves as an authoritative resource for couples, regardless of age really, who want to understand not only how aging can affect their own sexual health but also how to embrace sex as a critical part of overall wellness.
Dr. Laurie is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist with a specialty in Sex Therapy, and has been a practicing Psychotherapist for over 25 years. Her professional activities and experiences are diverse. More than 25 years ago, she began a career in radio when, as a co-host, she joined the team of MIX 96 in Montreal; a station that broke barriers when it introduced a call-in show (The Love Line), airing once per week, all about sex and relationships. In 1999, she joined CJAD 800 with her own talk show (this time nightly), once again about sex and relationships. This show, "PASSION", has soared to take the number one position in its time slot, and it is the only show of its kind on Montreal airwaves, and has been on the air for the last 17 years.
In her book, Dr. Laurie outlines Five Myths About Sex After Fifty.
- Myth # 1 - Women Peak in their 30s
- Myth # 2 - Orgasms when you are young are better
- Myth # 3 - Erectile problems are inevitable
- Myth # 4 - We lose interest in sex as we get older
- Myth # 5 - The quality of sex declines as we age
The first myth is perhaps the most surprising. "My book was based on scientific information. You have to fight myths and mis-perceptions with truth and scientific fact...When we talk about a peak, we are really talking about a hormonal peak." From a psychological perspective however, women peak later in life because they are finally comfortable with who they are. The problem stems from a perception problem with women. "Many women don't feel that they're entitled to pleasure...they feel this responsibility that if they don't give [pleasure], their partner will look elsewhere."
Differences between men and women
According to Dr. Betito, the need for communication is critical as partners' bodies change with aging. Couples should realize that difficulties with sexuality are likely symptoms indicating a larger underlying issue, not a cause of those problems. Stress and depression and anxiety affect sexuality profoundly.
Adults often worry about the changes that their bodies undergo which are exacerbated when their partners think it is their fault when it takes longer to get aroused or a man loses an erection. Dr. Laurie advises that as you get older what you need sexually changes. Failure to communicate about the physical changes and challenges which both partners can experience can quickly spiral out of control and wreak havoc in a relationship.
Some key things to talk about:
- What kind of stimulation do you want?
- Is my technique still working for you?
- What do you need?
- What can I do to make your pleasure optimal
Recognize that what someone liked at 20 will not be what that person will like at 40. Some couples elect to seek external stimulation through alternative lifestyles through swinging or even just visiting a swingers club and observing.
Women today can feel much more sexually alive later in life. If the conditions are right (good relationship, solid self-esteem), women can experience even greater sexual desire when they are older. Consider the fact that MILF (Mom I'd Like to F*ck) is among the most popular adult film genres.
There is a wonderful quote from her book on the differences between men and women when it comes to sex:
“Here’s a metaphor that sums up the way desire works for the majority of men and women in long-term relationships. Think of a car. Men are normally in “drive,” and releasing the brake gets them moving. They don’t even have to press on the gas pedal. Women are in “neutral” (even though many think their batteries are dead). They need an action of some sort to get them into gear. That action is a combination of physiological and psychological factors—both stimulation and context.”
According to Dr. Laurie, "Women's sexuality is much more contextual..not just genital...A whole lot more men can separate their head from their penis" and are able to function. She gives a great example.
In a situation where a man and woman have an argument. The woman is less likely to be wiling to have sex if the disagreement is unresolved. On the contrary, men are much better able to switch gears as they are able to separate the emotional disturbance from the physical act.
Difference between interest and libido
As a therapist, Dr. Betito often treats women whose husbands have sent them to her because their wives don't want to have sex. Women who complain more about low libido are often in long-term relationships. After questioning however, Dr. Betito discovers that there are a lot of other underlying problems in their larger relationship. "The interesting part is that she is in fact interested in sexuality. It's not dead."
Eventually, the husband learns that it is not that his wife isn't interested in sex, just not interested in sex with him (not that she is interested in going elsewhere either). This is when the real work begins. This leads to the next issue of context.
Men and women are, in general terms, wired differently when it comes to sex. Specifically, most women need context. Women complain more about low libido because they do not understand that the way in which their interest in sex arises differs significantly from how their husbands' interests are stimulated. Effectively they each have different paths to the sexual arousal and partners need to recognize that.
Dr. Betito describes these as a male sexual brain and a female sexual brain. Women attach more emotion or intimacy to the sexual act than men. As men and women get older however, they start to join up. Men begin to attach more intimacy to sexual activity.
There is also a difference between the sexes in spontaneous libido which is as Dr. Laurie says is when you "feel it below the belt." Women are not as likely to have spontaneous desire. The pleasure is there desire is there but the get-up-and-go is not. She compares it to going to the gym. When you are doing it, you feel better, you know why it is important but the impetus to get up and move is hard. Now take it back to sex, Why would you go to the gym if doing so meant you felt bad about yourself or if you didn't see any results.
“An example I often use to illustrate the difference between men and women’s desire is this: A woman walks out of the shower naked; her partner takes a look at her and is likely to get aroused, erection and all. Now let’s reverse this little scenario. He walks out of the shower naked. Does her clitoris suddenly begin to throb, in the equivalent of an erection? If she’s lucky it might, but chances are it will take more than the sight of his nakedness to trigger desire in her.Female sexual desire is affected by myriad factors that include stress, fatigue, anger, resentment, hormones, dishes in the sink, socks on the floor, etc. It’s almost as if most women have a hard time shutting out the world to just focus on their bodies.”
About Sex Toys
Myth: Only younger women use sex toys.
Fact: Women aged fifty-five to sixty are just as likely as younger women to have tried a sex toy at some point in their lives.
Among her travels, Dr. Laurie Betito talks to elderly groups and even sells them sex toys. One of her recent groups had an average age of 82. Her attitude is "If I can still get pleasure, what the hell?"
Myth: If you use a sex toy, it means you’re dissatisfied with partner sex.
Fact: Sex-toy users are significantly more likely to report a higher level of desire and interest in sex, and less pain during and following intercourse according to a 2004 Berman Center study.
Insecure men are threatened. By contrast, men who are secure in their relationship, recognize that masturbation and self-pleasure can be an enhancement to the overall sexual relationship.
She offers a strategy for maintaining the sexual wellness in a relationship. Her advice is "Aging is all about education...Don't try to be what you were when you were twenty....Stop wishing for what you can't have and start adapting to what you do have."
Dr. Laurie's Five-Part Sex Strategy
- Schedule 20 minutes, twice a week, to focus on sexual pleasure
- Think of sex as part of your daily workout
- Focus on the benefits
- Repeat to yourself ("This is really good for me and for us.")
- Just make it happen
What is striking about her book, as mentioned earlier, is that it is for all ages. Much of what she discusses in great detail is information that could be most helpful in sex education - not just the mechanics of the act but the messy emotional and mental challenges with which partners often struggle.
Do yourself a favor, pick up a copy of the book and tune into her radio show. Links for both are below. She provides direct, frank and honest discussion in an area where it is still sorely lacking.
Excerpts from: Betito, Laurie. “The Sex Bible For People Over 50.” Fair Winds Press/Quiver, 2014. iBooks.