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Eros and Aging - Page 7

The Quality of Sex Is Inherently Variable

To achieve satisfying, mature sex, it's vital that both men and women understand that the quality of sex in a committed relationship is inherently variable. Sex is an interpersonal process, not an autonomous one, and is dependent upon all the emotional complexity and flux of any connection between two distinct personalities. In any relationship, therefore, sex will exhibit as many moods, colors, flairs, and profiles as the relationship itself.

Among healthy sexual couples, fewer than 50 percent of encounters are considered satisfying in the sense that both partners experience high levels of desire, arousal, orgasm, and satisfaction. Even more important, it's normal for 5 to 15 percent of sexual encounters to be dissatisfying or dysfunctional. Even in happy, satisfied couples, the quality of sex varies from experience to experience—from exceptional to good to mediocre, even to downright lousy, on occasion. The resilient couple can revel in the great times, take some pleasure from the mediocre times, and accept with equanimity the times of distinctly ungreat sex. Therefore, the most realistic approach for couples seeking a happy sex life is to focus on establishing an overall pattern of desire, pleasure, and satisfaction, and not to expect peak sexual performance on every occasion, or even on many occasions.

Accepting sexual variability and flexibility as the healthiest model for men over 50 (and under 50, for that matter)—a realization that "wise" women often integrate into their sexual styles more comfortably—helps couples become intimate, erotic friends who approach sexuality as a team. Clinical experience has taught us that sexual problems arise when one or both spouses have rigid and conflicting ideas about the purpose for sex, when either or both misunderstand the different styles of sexual arousal, and when men and women become overly concerned about sexual boredom. Healthy couples accept that sexual complexity, variability, and flexibility are the keys to enjoying sexuality into their fifties and later through life.

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