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Sex Through the Decades

What you need to know now—and later

Forewarned is forearmed, and it's helpful to know what each decade may bring sexually. A tablespoonful of attention, a dash of appreciation, a cupful of communication, tossed lightly with creativity and a good sense of humor is a great recipe for "good lovin" in any decade.

20s: Sex, Sex, Sex

This is the decade of lots of sex, and often. Many couples marry out of college or later in their twenties, and are "rarin' to go." They have time and no major responsibilities, such as children, to deal with. They're unencumbered, and everything about the relationship is still fresh.

That was Heather and Mark's experience. They were married right out of college. Heather's heart beat faster when Mark entered a room. She loved the smell of him, and felt her stomach flip-flop when he kissed her.

While it was difficult, they'd waited to have sex until after their wedding. At their wedding reception, all Mark could think about was, Tonight's the night!

And that's pretty much what he continued to think every night through this decade. That's when their differences began to surface. Soon, Mark felt as if he always wanted sex more often than Heather. His raging sex drive produced an unyielding longing for sex.

Heather, however, was satisfied with making love two to three times a week. "Is sex all you ever think about?" she'd ask him when his affections turned inevitably to foreplay. And often that foreplay turned into arguments about sexual frequency.

What's Up with That?

  • Couples first notice libido differences, often creating pressure for the female and frustration for the male.
  • While a man's sexual peak is during his late teens and early twenties, it can easily stay charged well into his late twenties. He feels driven by his body. Thus it's called a sex drive.

What Women Need to Know

  • As the twenties progress men become more able to slow down. That means they don't have to recite the Gettysburg Address to stave off an orgasm while they're waiting for you to climax. They're more ready to listen to what will pleasure you.

What Men Need to Know

  • Men can become aroused in 2 to 3 minutes (and sometimes 30 seconds!)—but women take 10 times as long. That's 20 to 30 minutes to become as aroused as her man. Marriage won't turn a Crock-Pot into a microwave! Remember, the first description of love in Corinthians 13 is, "Love is patient."
  • You'll get further in the sexual department if every affectionate moment doesn't turn into a sexual overture.

What Can We Do?

  • Talk to your spouse about sex! The wife needs to communicate where and when are her best times for sex, as well as what turns her on and what makes her climax. Communication will improve sex better than any book on technique. The biggest obstacle to good sex is silence.
  • Don't just say no. The best thing for your marriage is to negotiate your sex life. Compromise times and types. Try these times: early in the morning, Saturday afternoon, right after work, a specific day. Try these types: quickies (one person gets an orgasm); no-frills sex (both get an orgasm but no extras); gourmet sex (sex with all the trimmings: candles, music, massage, and anything else that makes sex a feast).

30s: Career vs. Sex

This decade often finds couples settling into their "life's work." Careers and kids, houses and stuff. Often sex gets pushed to the side.

During Sandy and David's thirties, life demanded limitless energy. Sandy rebounded from two C-sections, worked part time, and taught Sunday school. When David spontaneously wanted sex sometimes, Sandy refused. "I'm worn out!" she'd admit. "After dealing with a busy schedule and caring for the kids, I'm too tired." Plus she felt insecure and less sexy about her body now that she'd had two babies and gained 15 pounds.

David's life had also changed from the lightheartedness of the twenties to greater responsibility and a promotion at work. Whenever he felt overly tired or stressed, he became alarmed by a sluggishness in the erection department. Replacing the spontaneity he thought would never end were the demands of work, children, and their busy lives.

What's Up with That?

  • One of the main problems of the thirties is time pressure and busyness.
  • Because of fatigue, work schedules, PMS, and sick kids, "30somethings" move from spontaneity to planned outings.
  • Sex may become the last priority on the list or begin to get stale, especially if the same tired agenda is always used to reach orgasm.

What Women Need to Know

  • Men hate giving up the idea of sexual spontaneity.
  • Because of stress or fatigue, men can become more sluggish with their erections, which can lead to his avoiding sex altogether.
  • You may say, "I don't want to have sex," but your husband hears, "I don't want to have sex with you." Saying, "Not now" instead of, "No" lets your husband grasp it will happen, just not at that moment. But be sure to make time for intimacy within the next 24–48 hours or your hubby will start to believe that "not now" is the same as "no." Another characteristic of biblical love is that it is kind, and kindness is essential when turning down your mate for sex.
  • Most women think gaining weight is a major turn-off to their mates, so they allow their own ideas and misconceptions to make them feel insecure. In many studies, however, a wife's weight gain doesn't affect her husband's sexual fires at all.

What Men Need to Know

  • Begging for or pouting over sex doesn't entice your wife to be more willing. But accepting "not now" will.
  • Planning intimacy doesn't ruin it; it insures it will take place.
  • Women need a great deal of affirmation about their bodies, especially after childbirth or if they've put on a few pounds. Try telling your wife, "You will always look sexy to me, and I can't get enough of you."

What Can We Do?

  • Spice things up! Don't settle for the same old/same old. Get creative: change positions, try sex in different rooms (when the kids are asleep or out of the house!). Have fun!
  • Husbands, give your wife a break from the kids. Let her go out for some "girl time" or treat her to a nice, quiet restaurant or an overnight stay at a local hotel. That refreshment can earn you more passion and a sexier attitude.
  • If your hubby is slow "getting out of the gate," spoil each other with erotic touching or massage. Cuddling is a great way to show affection without the pressure of sex.

40s: Mid-Life Sex

This decade is a tenuous time because of so many changes. Suddenly you need glasses. Your tooth pain is gum disease. And your doctor informs you check-ups for prostate, cervical, and/or breast cancer will be done on a regular basis for the rest of your life! Often aged parents begin to need help, and you awaken to face your own mortality.

Sandy and Grant began having sexual problems after Sandy started experiencing "empty nest" syndrome. She turned to Grant to have her emotional and sexual needs met, but he'd just been made vice president of his computer company and was working more than ever. Sandy felt as though she was in her sexual prime, but Grant wasn't interested in sex and treated it more like an obligation than a desire.

Sandy then turned outside her home and began to volunteer at the local hospital. She confessed to Grant she'd been having coffee with a doctor every day and was developing feelings for him. They began counseling immediately and processed what had gotten them to that point.

What's Up with That?

  • This decade is typically a woman's sexual prime.
  • This is the most dangerous decade for mid-life crisis—for both men and women.
  • Unmet intimacy needs equal frustration. Fulfilled intimacy needs equal contentment.
  • Most people develop a newfound awareness of the effects of gravity and the ticking clock. They look to their mates to affirm their continued attractiveness and desirability.
  • Lovemaking during this decade can be savored like Godiva chocolate, not gulped like water on a hot day.

What Women Need to Know

  • Good communication is vital when husbands aren't meeting intimacy needs. Be honest and upfront. Men won't understand subtle, vague, or mixed messages.
  • Men have their own insecurities as their hair becomes thinner, their abs become flabs, and they worry about enough money for retirement.
  • A man needs affirmation for his sexual prowess, his attractiveness to you, and your sexual need for him.

What Men Need to Know

  • Pay attention! Recognize your wife's natural sexual prime and celebrate it with her. Try to remember what your sexual prime felt like.
  • Real communication is only 7 percent words, so it's important to look at your wife's face and body language and listen to her tone of voice to get the message she's sending.
  • Attention from her husband is a women's top intimacy need, and attention is spelled T-I-M-E.

What Can We Do?

  • Women: throw out your sleep shirt and shake the dust off the black teddy in the back of the drawer.
  • Men: Reinstate date nights.
  • Practice slow lovemaking. Read together the beautiful erotic poetry of the Song of Songs.

50s+: Slower Times

Fact of life: our bodies aren't 20 anymore. Everything moves a little slower, including our libidos.

Amy and Doug couldn't believe they were 50something. They were shocked when they received their application to AARP! They still felt young and had always had a satisfying sex life. Lately, though, Amy wasn't as interested in sex and complained that it hurt her at times. She also noticed she was having difficulty lubricating and reaching orgasm. She'd gone through menopause with no problems, so she couldn't understand her body's disinterest in sex.

Doug had been pondering some changes in his sexuality as well. He had difficulty getting a hard erection without direct tactile stimulation or longer foreplay. Now his "repeat performances" were usually the next day, not the next hour. And he wasn't as interested in having sex.

Amy visited her gynecologist and discovered that she was deficient in vaginal estrogen and testosterone. She was surprised to learn that testosterone was the hormone of desire in both men and women. Her physician prescribed testosterone gel, applied to her thighs at night, to help reinstate her libido, and vaginal estrogen to nourish and moisturize her vagina.

Doug saw his urologist and was relieved to learn his sexual concerns were typical changes of aging and not a sign of a physical problem. However, his physician changed his blood pressure medicine because of erection problem side effects, and prescribed Viagra for those times of performance uncertainty.

Once Doug and Amy understood how their aging bodies worked, and what they could do about it, they were happily back to a normal sexual regime.

What's Up with That?

  • Bodily and sexual response changes are more noticeable.
  • Women and men both have a reduction in the hormone of desire, testosterone.
  • Women may need vaginal estrogen to moisturize the vagina and testosterone gel to reverse a loss of desire.
  • Men may experience normal changes such as slower erections, lack of firmness, fewer orgasms, longer recovery time, and no ejaculations with some orgasms.
  • Many medications have sexual side effects that your physician or pharmacist may not mention.
  • Couples who remain sexually active live longer and healthier lives. Some studies even suggest that sexuality promotes brain function in seniors.

What Women Need to Know

  • There's a myth that seniors who are sexual are "dirty old men or women." Don't believe it! Sex is for married couples of all ages.
  • Men need more foreplay and more direct stimulation to their genitals to become and stay erect.
  • Men may need more atmosphere and anticipation than before. Sexy whispers about the evening, seductive touching in the afternoon, or some sheer lingerie could do the trick.

What Men Need to Know

  • Sometimes penile-vaginal penetration may cause your wife discomfort, so go slow and work up to deeper thrusts.
  • Even with the estrogen cream and the testosterone gel your wife may need longer foreplay to become aroused, so be patient with her, as she is with you.
  • Typically, the ceremony and foreplay men need in their fifties and sixties elicits empathy for the struggles their wives have had through the earlier decades.

What Can We Do?

  • Apply any lubricants or gels in private to preserve the romance.
  • It's okay to check out medications such as Viagra to help keep your sexual relationship sizzling.
  • If either spouse is on a medication, check with a physician to determine if the side effects are impacting sexual drive or responses.

Shay and Robert Roop are Christian sex therapists in private practice. Shay is author of For Women Only: God's Design for Female Sexuality and Intimacy (AMG).

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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