My future husband and I are over 65, and our kids look at us with wonder. They see that we are physically warm and sexual with one another, but they find it surprising. How can that be? How can two old people possibly want to have sex with each other? How can they be attracted to one another?
I've been mulling over their reactions, and they are based on two assumptions:
- Sex is primarily based on physical attraction.
- Older people are ugly, and so couldn't be attracted to one another.
Are these assumptions true? Here's what I'd like to share from my experience.
The keys to good sexual relationships are safety and relaxation, and safety and relaxation are based on compassion and mutual understanding. These qualities do not belong exclusively to the young. As a matter of fact, for many of us, it is only age, experience and hard work that have brought us the tools and healing that allow for healthy sexual intimacy.
Of course, it's true that some relationships worsen over the years. Unresolved pain within a couple deepens the chasms rather than the love, and resentments fester and resignation reigns. When this occurs, sexual intimacy may wane or disappear altogether. But while this experience is common, it is not necessary.
Instead, couples may learn to be increasingly compassionate with one another and deepen their bonds. In the beginning of relationships, many of us are looking toward a potential partner for services, financial or emotional security or other forms of ego gratification. Wow, he or she is "hot," or smart, or ambitious, or financially comfortable, or somehow desirable. He or she makes me look good to the world. Or he or she will help ensure my future. In these scenarios, it's all about "me."
Over time, however, we realize that our partners were not designed to meet our ego's needs, and we recognize, instead, that our partners are like us -- vulnerable human beings with weaknesses and strengths who need to feel nurtured and supported. They, like us, need to feel understood and accepted. As we increasingly provide that to one another, our feelings of safety increase. My partner knows me, loves me, accepts me and wants the best for me. That is safety. Those feelings of emotional safety can lead to deeper relaxation and to better sexual communication and intimacy as well.
But a growing, passionate relationship requires us to do more than just love and accept each other. We need to challenge one another to grow. And we need to challenge ourselves to grow, as well. When we grow, we release the many blocks that we've developed from childhood and experience, blocks that stop us from feeling free, emotionally and sexually. Releasing those blocks allows us to develop increasing trust, and passion grows with it.
I'd like to offer an example about how compassion and growth can help. Let's say a woman is an alcoholic, and this causes distress to her whole family. If her mate does not have compassion, the whole relationship can turn off. The mate feels disgust, and there is no passion.
Let's say, however, that her mate can have compassion for her alcoholism and her struggle to stay sober. If she can take it in, she may feel safer to share with her partner all her problems, including sexual blocks, if she has them. Her partner can do the same. Now they find they can communicate about the pains and blocks within their relationship -- sexual, spiritual and emotional. The channel between them opens, and so does the flow of love and sexual energy.
Now let's go even farther. Suppose the woman also goes to a program for alcohol abuse. Now her mate becomes even more optimistic and encouraged, which further opens the channel of love between them. And if she succeeds in kicking her habit, the two can co-create an amazing bond between them. They have faced a huge challenge together and won. If the woman's partner simultaneously gets help for his or her problems -- be those problems emotional, mental or physical, such as overwork, anger, withdrawal or moodiness, for example -- then both feel confident that the other is dedicated to self-improvement and removing the obstacles to trust and happiness. These lead to greater relaxation, safety, trust and intimacy. The channels to passion can become reinvigorated.
What does this have to do with age? In these scenarios, time together has deepened the relationship and opened the channels to more fulfilling intimacy.
Let's say, however, that the relationship is not meant to last. They have fought this battle together, care deeply about one another but feel no passion for one another. They are not truly attuned to one another and do not have a shared destiny. It may be time for the partners to split. If they have both learned something about themselves and about the process of relating, each can go on to partner with someone else to whom they are more suited, and each brings his or her wisdom with them. From the beginning, the new relationships can be more open, intimate and mutually supportive because of what each partner has learned in the past. If sexual difficulties surface, the new couple can also seek help and build new intimacy through their shared efforts.
Challenging ourselves and one another to get well -- mentally, physically and emotionally -- are living demonstrations of love. Each partner recognizes the flaws and challenges of their mate, but each feels assured that their partner is dedicated to overcoming their blocks to relating. These experiences create the feeling of being truly loved, which helps unblock the channels to sexual intimacy.
None of this is age related, except insofar as developing skills and doing inner healing work can take time. If we are assiduous in our efforts, in fact, time is actually on our side! So much for age being a block to sexuality.
Now what about the issue of age and appearance? How important is that?
Sexuality is primarily about intimacy, energy and touch. As we have just discussed, intimacy can grow over time, so we know that age can help. The energetic connection -- the electricity between people -- can be immediate or can grow (or diminish) over time too, if it's based on the spiritual connection that binds two people in love and who are meant to be together. One does not need a youthful face or body to transmit to a partner the energetic experience of connection. That experience is spiritual, visceral, nonverbal and non-visual.
But what about our societal emphasis on looking good? The truth is that sexual arousal is not limited to the eyes. Rather, it is very much about touch. Touch can give us a sense of being safe and wanted, and relaxation and arousal can easily follow.
In addition, it is true that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. As we love someone and have wonderful memories of intimacy and trust, our loved one improves in appearance before our very eyes. This is not only true of people who have met young and aged day-by-day together. It is also true of people who meet when they are older, but who have wonderful experiences of happiness and safety with one another.
Passion does not require external stimulus through visual excitation (though, of course, that can exist as well), any more than it requires drugs or alcohol, or calisthenics and performance. Passion requires deep connection, safety and the opportunity for complete self-expression. That can be nurtured over time.
Some people are concerned about physical limitations, and of course they exist. But to a large extent they can be overcome. I can attest to this because I personally have been chronically ill for 51 years and could give a million excuses why I shouldn't be sexual. But why would I? The energy of connection can exist in an old body as well as a young one, and passion comes from the inside, not from gymnastic capabilities. In addition, there are ways to overcome some of the physical problems encountered with age, problems related to hormones and erectile dysfunction, and they can be overcome if we have the relaxation, trust and the desire to truly relate to and have sacred union with our partner.
Whether or not we feel sexually turned on is very much a function of how we feel about ourselves, how we feel within our relationships and what past traumas might be carried over from the past. And so time can either erode or support us in our sexual relating. Time can lead to emotional disillusionment and negativity toward ourselves, or it can be used for healing within ourselves and between us. That depends on us.
I cannot say how I will feel 20 years from now. But I can tell both young and old that the physical limitations of age are not nearly as corrosive as the emotional and spiritual damage of unhealed wounds. And if I am not feeling like being physically and sexually affectionate 20 years from now, when I'm in my late 80s, I'm not going to take it lying down. I'm going to challenge myself with the question, "Why?" and I'll be happy to share with you what I learn at that time.
Beth Green has been an intuitive counselor and spiritual teacher since 1980 and is the founder of The Stream spiritual community and the co-founder of Consciousness Boot Camp. Watch a brief video on Consciousness Boot Camp to see the breadth and depth of this program. Beth has taught many programs on Sex & Spirituality, as well as other topics. Her personal website is Beth's Place. Also, you can read her other blogs on The Huffington Post by clicking on her name at the top of this page in green. She'd love to hear from you.