We don’t talk about sex in retirement, do we?
By far the most-commented-on chapter in my book Retirement Ready? is ‘Let’s talk about sex’. I’ve been surprised by this response. It seems like it was an unexpected topic.
And yet sex is a normal, natural and healthy part of a couple’s relationship—at whatever age. Ageing can impact on sexual functioning, of course, and that’s when we need to know what we can do to help or to work with it.
The chapter on sex was the first chapter I wrote—and probably not for any of the reasons you may be thinking. I happened upon a presentation being made by sex therapist Bettina Arndt. She was a featured speaker at an event I often attended. I hadn’t planned to attend that day and didn’t know who was speaking, but my schedule changed and I ended up being there—late.
As I listened to her two thoughts occurred. The first was that any book about retirement has to also deal with issues of ageing. The second was that if I were to write a book emphasising a whole-of-life approach to retirement, sex should be included.
Arndt agreed to be interviewed. The chapter got its title when she told me that by far the biggest problem couples have over sex is not talking to each other about it.
It’s more than a joke
Most comments about the chapter have been jokes in a variety of forms. Perhaps that’s confirmation that we really don’t like talking about it.
In the chapter on sex in Retirement Ready? I use a joke/comment I’d heard that gives a rough guide to the possibilities (mostly not permanent) of male impotency. Last week, I bumped into a friend of mine in his 40s. He said, ‘I’ve got your book.’ He paused for a moment. Then . . .
‘So, 50 per cent of men in their 50s; 60 per cent of men in their 60s; 70 per cent of men in their 70s; 80 per cent of men in their 80s; 90 per cent of men in their 90s; that’s why no man wants to reach 100.’ He laughed and walked on.
For others 20 years or so off retirement age, the question has been why? Why would you discuss sex in a book about retirement? It’s as if they’re asking if people still have sex at retirement age.
Then there was a friend, about my age, who’d read Retirement Ready? He had worked in the retirement industry and congratulated me on the book. He said he liked it because it was real. Then he told me that he’d had prostate cancer. Prostate cancer and its treatment can cause issues in sexual functioning.
Whatever the reason, sex isn’t a joke for many people.
It’s an awkward topic
Yes, it is.
I find it hard to fathom that Baby Boomers have difficulties talking about sex. Weren’t we the ones who lived through the 60s when sexual freedoms were taken and encouraged?
The problem is that while it’s openly discussed in the media and is a significant part of popular entertainment and culture, it seems we have difficulty talking one-on-one about the issues we may have.
Particularly to the one we are closest to.
That can be tragic for the couple. If there are issues—any issues—in a relationship that aren’t talked through, the tension and frustration mounts. And even a sense of hopelessness.
It’s time to talk.
What does an expert say?
How do you do this—talk? Here’s what Corey, a marriage therapist on the simple marriage website, says:
He reckons that for many, it’s easier to talk about sex with friends than it is with your sexual partner because of the anxiety these intimate subjects and acts create. He makes the following points:
Timing is key. If you want to discuss some unresolved aspect of your sexual relationship or a disappointment or frustration, doing this during sex is not a good time. Both of you will likely be less open and objective about the conversation.
Be honest. This may seem like common sense but there are many people who resort to code words or only half bring things up.
Avoid placing blame and attacking. Anytime a person feels attacked they’ll respond defensively. It’s part of our survival technique. Talk about your experience, your thoughts, and your feelings. This will still impact your partner and may possibly hurt, but it increases the chances that you will be heard.
Ask questions. Seek to hear their side of things to be clear on their perspective. This is especially good advice if you have a partner who’s reluctant to have this conversation.
Listen. Slowing down to really listen can help keep the conversation calm. The less reactive you are, the more likely a good resolution will result.
Fill the conversation with respect. Avoid talking down to your partner and don’t assume they know what you’re thinking. Also, avoid interrupting while they’re speaking.
It’s important to talk about things that are important.
Bruce Manners: author of Retirement Ready?