CELEBRATING THE FULFILLMENT OF THE SOUL

BOTTLE

Jim Croce wrote a beautiful love song back in 1970, called, “Time in Bottle.”  He wrote that song right after he found out his wife was pregnant, overwhelmed with love for her. He wanted to savor every moment.  Unfortunately, he died only 3 years later in a plane crash at the young age of 30. The words to the song are still poignant today, “If I could save time in a bottle, the first thing that I’d like to do, is to save every day, ’til eternity passes away, just to spend them with you…” The song goes on and speaks about never having enough time to do the things you want to do once you find the things you want to do. That’s what love inspires in life. I believe bringing love into everything we do is the basis of all relationships, as well as in each sexual experience we share with the one we love and the one with whom we connect.  

Everything is fine when we are young, healthy and strong. However, even though we age, we still need and want love and through that sexual connection. In this article we will take a look at how the process of aging along with any illness affliction may affect our relationships and intimacy. I’ll offer you some views on some of the important aspects to focus on, how the benefits of having sex, or not having sex, impacts our perception of self, validation, physical acceptance, and what we may perhaps have as our expectations of sexual performance.

Aging as Sexual Beingscouple cuddling with profound quote overlay

Humans are created as sexual beings to procreate and continue the lifespan of humankind.  Sex, birth and death are three of the most intimate experiences we share as human beings in a physical body.   Each experience contains a physical, emotional, mental and spiritual component that together form a unique quality to each one’s life. Spiritual and cultural differences are inherent to each human being that assists in creating that quality.  Regardless, though, due to the nature of our human form, we all “feel” the same physical sensations.

Our bodies are designed to experience the sensation of having and giving pleasure, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.  Sex is designed as an interactive, creative activity that continues the desire of engaging with life with another human being. It is also the means by which we procreate.  As adults, having sex not only satisfies our need to feel validated through touch, but also to touch another in ways that pleases. The sexual act between two consenting individuals contains all aspects of who we are into one experience which can even touch the very core of the soul.  When we have an orgasm, we feel such a deep stirring sensation, it can sometimes take our very breath away. We inhale and exhale the deepest sigh, and, it feels so good to release and let go of that deepest breath, sometimes enough to make one cry. The greatest beauty of it though, is that there is no age limit to feeling orgasm, pleasure, excitement, and passion.

Birth is another powerful physical experience resulting from sex and most often love-making, and when two individuals become parents their child is often referred to as the “fruit” of their love. That timeless passion and love propel creative forces in motion. Many parents experience the birth of their child together, as it is truly a most powerful and breathtaking experience, filling them up with immeasurable joy. We all surrender to that special moment when witnessing a new life happening.  

Death is also a force of nature that we will all experience one day. If we have played our cards well by living a full and meaningful life, sharing our gifts, our talents, our creativity with joy, love, laughter, kindness, tenderness, compassion, and connection with a sense of well-being and acceptance, the dying experience can be a healing one. Our final exhale is the final breath that surrenders life, ultimately letting go of being in a physical body. Thus, the cycle of sex, birth and death continues.

Aging, Relationships & Sex

Close-up of senior man affectionately kissing elegant wife's arm

Regardless of how young we feel, we cannot hide from aging, and everything that comes with it.  As soon as we are born, the growing to aging takes process takes place. However, it’s how we age and what happens during the aging process that is the issue.

When we are young, vibrant, sexually curious, and easily arousable, we feel a high energy as if nothing will change and we’ll live forever.  We have a natural inclination to desire a healthy, fulfilling relationship with another human being, comprising physical, sexual, emotional, mental, and spiritual components.   

However, everything does change in time.  With natural growth, comes aging. Although we can age like good wine, robust yet with grace, achieve a good degree of wisdom, we still have to face the fact that our bodies may not be what they use to be, regardless of how fit we’ve kept ourselves up over the years.  However, what doesn’t really change is our want to feel acknowledged and accepted unconditionally through sex. As Margaret Atwood, activist for the #MeToo movement, Canadian poet, and author of A Handmaiden’s Tale, states, “Nobody dies from the lack of sex.  It’s lack of love we die from.”

And, according to a study in the March 2015 issue of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, staying sexually active and considering sexuality an important part of life may be linked to higher cognitive functioning as people age.  In the study it was found that subjects who didn’t see the importance of sexual behavior or need for intimacy had lower than average cognitive scores compared with those who felt sexuality was important (not including people with dementia or other severe cognitive impairments.

Some aging adults don’t feel comfortable in their aging bodies. They don’t like their physical aspect too much anymore.  A bit of sagging, wrinkles, love handles, make men and women worry that their partners won’t find them desirable anymore.  Aches and pains may occur more frequently, and extra weight along with thinning hair and skin and hair get thinner, some stray hairs growing in odd places, and then our metabolism slows does too. It’s no surprise that age related sexual problems can cause stress and worry. This worry can sometimes get in the way of enjoying a fulfilling sex life.  

Intimacy word cloud concept

For many people, regardless of their age, there continues to be a strong desire and ability to engage in an active, satisfying sex life.  Many people are having an active sex life even in their 80’s. It’s not necessarily the age that changes, but what happens physically to the person who is aging.  Some people who are aging, might have to adapt their sexual activities to accommodate their particular physical state of being. The most important ingredient to remember, however, whether you are engaging in physical sex or not, is continuing to experience the sense of intimacy, which isn’t always reliant on having sex.  Intimacy is that closeness you feel with another person, being able to be your most open and vulnerable self, sharing affection because you feel safe. You feel connected, because true intimacy bypasses the physical (ego/head) and goes straight to the heart. Intimacy can even be felt on a first meeting by really looking at each other in the eyes, which are the windows to the soul, with an open heart.

Being older, expressing our sexuality will be different than it once was.  We may not be as flexible as we used to be, or we may be more sensitive in different parts of our bodies, so it’s important to explore what feels good and what doesn’t.  For a woman, as she ages, she may have vaginal dryness. Consult your doctor for solutions. Coconut oil has been known to be a fantastic organic product that one can use as a safe lubricant for sex. Hot flashes might be a factor, so break out in song to the tune of Irving Berlin’s Heat Wave, made famous by Carmen Miranda: “I’m having a heat wave, a tropical heat wave…”  Let humor soften the experience.   

The vaginal walls also become thinner, making penetration quite painful for some, or maybe arousal take longer than it used to.  There are a multitude of possibilities. For men, it may be more common to experience the loss of ability to have or even keep an erection, (impotence, erectile dysfunction).  What’s important in either case is to be able to TALK openly about it all with each other. Discover new ways to be together as you get older. And, you may find that affection – hugging, kissing, touching, and spending time together is just what you need.  That’s why the intimacy part is so important. That part is the connector, the part that keeps you together on the same page, doing your best to hold the space and understand what each other is going through and loving each other through it all without judgment.

Love Therapy and relationship recovery counseling concept as two empty trees shaped as a human head attracted together as a devoted loving couple with kissing lips resulting in a return to a healthy passionate ralation.

Aging and Being Ill

Everyday issues like retirement, lifestyle changes can all lead to sexual difficulties, but being ill and aging, is a whole other story.  It’s one thing to get older when you are healthy and have a few aches and pains here and there. It’s quite another to experience yourself or your loved one when you or they are ill.  A chronic illness complicates the experience even more.  Some people contract chronic or terminal illnesses that not only affect them, they affect their relationships to their loving partners, in physical, emotional, mental, and sexual ways.  Talking openly with your partner without ridicule, criticism or blame is really the best way to deal with the realities of passing time on our bodies and the illness it’s been subjected to.   There could be many reasons for embarrassment, such as mastectomies, amputation, partial paralysis, colostomy bag, loss of hair from chemotherapy, so don’t hesitate to consult a therapist if these feelings are keeping you from enjoying intimacy.

Chronic illnesses effect sexual function differently, depending on the different illness that one may have.  Having cancer brings up one set of conditions, as does Parkinson’s, arthritis, chronic pain, lupus, leukemia, diabetes, heart disease, kidney failure, irritable bowel condition, Crohn’s disease, incontinence, or even dementia, depression or Alzheimer’s, and a multitude of others.  What’s important to know, is that no matter what disease or condition you have, you will most likely experience a sense of loss from not being who you or your partner were before you or your partner were ill. It’s not easy being sick. Shame can arise, especially in our society when being sick is oftentimes looked at as a weakness.  So, it’s understandable that doubt and insecurity would come up. You might take a look at forming a new identity, along with a new sense of acceptance for who you or your partner are now. Finding new ways of doing everything may be in order to creatively establish a “new norm”.

Sharing with your partner what’s sexually working for you and what’s not, is crucial for pleasurable enjoyment for both.  Exercising extra sensitivity and thoughtfulness by asking your partner about their feelings, experiences, expectations, allow both of you to come up with possible solutions together.  Acknowledge there are sexual side effects that exist from the medications you are taking, or the treatments you are getting, and validate the validity of loss. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.  Stay curious and give yourself and your partner permission to grieve what once was and never will be again. If you or your partner have a chronic illness, you or your partner will never be the same as you once were.  Allow that to be okay. Collaborate with your partner and your doctors to find solutions that help you feel better. Be mindful and know that you have common concerns that anyone in your situation would have. You might feel a mix of emotions.  Sex is complicated. It’s not as simple as it once was, because it entails so many elements.

When you or your partner first get diagnosed with whatever illness they tell you, don’t be surprised if you find yourself going through the 5 stages of grief we’ve talked about in the article Grieving through 5 Stages of Dying (link).  Denial and shock come with disbelief that “this” could happen to you or your partner, anger that it has happened, depression that it is happening and will continue to happen (if it is chronic).  Also know that worrying about anything can affect your sexual function too, because “worry” is one of those words we can live without because it’s a set up to make us feel bad, and, could be seen as a prayer for something bad to happen, only making us feel worse.  

When you have a chronic illness, you might go through particular treatments, which would also affect your sexual function, not to mention the pain and discomfort you experience from whatever illness you have.  There are changes that happen in your body function, and no matter how you look at it, they’re challenging to navigate. You may even feel less attractive, less confident, and have anxiety about how your partner feels about you.  Maybe you have less energy and less desire for sex from your illness, and your whole world feels upside down, overwhelming and difficult. You may even feel physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted with a loss of appetite or dehydration.  Be kind and gentle on yourself or your loved one who is ill. This is not a time to be judgmental or hard on yourself. It’s a time for gentle tenderness, conveying feelings of unconditional acceptance through loving care. If you are able to still enjoy sex with your partner, then experience it in a way that feels as good as it possibly can.   

Health Benefits of Sex

couple hugging

Sex not only feels good, it can reduce our stress levels, and it’s been said to even lower our risk of cancer and heart attacks, as well as promoting feelings of intimacy we talked about above.  Touching, hugging, sexual intimacy and emotional attachment just feel good and promote a sense of bonding and calmness, which also stimulates the pleasure system in the brain. Experiencing this kind of connectedness helps to reduce anxiety, and studies have shown that sex boosts our overall health.  What I found fascinating is that the more sex we have, equals to fewer sick days, because we release protective antibodies against bacteria, viruses and other germs that cause common illnesses.  These are great reasons to continue having sex as we age.  It’s preventative medicine!

If you want to increase your libido, have more sex.  Having sex boosts desire, and sexual activity increases vaginal lubrication, blood flow and elasticity of the tissues, resulting in sex being more pleasurable.  More great reasons to have sex, not to mention exercising the Kegel muscle, which reduces incontinence, while strengthening and toning women’s pelvic floor muscles.  When having an orgasm, the Kegel muscles are stimulated, thus preventing accidents and urine leaks.  Oooh, other great reasons for having sex!  

Sex also helps to lower blood pressure and counts as a physical activity, because sex burns calories!   Sex increases your heart rate and burns about 144 calories per half hour, and if you want to be real creative, you can do yoga or pushups (or other creative ideas) during sex, and increase the calorie burn.  What a way to get in some extra physical activity by having a healthy sex life.  Also, sexual activity helps keep hormone levels, like estrogen and testosterone in check, keeping heart disease and osteoporosis at bay.  

Sexual stimulation and orgasm also keep pain at bay, reducing pain sensation, because orgasm releases the hormones that help block pain signals (a great distraction from the pain). It also releases a hormone called oxytocin that helps people bond, otherwise known as the “love hormone”, which helps to build feelings of love and trust.  Even after menopause, just cuddling and hugging your partner, your oxytocin levels go up, inspiring feelings of well-being. Having sex can even reduce symptoms of menstrual cramps, arthritis, and headaches.  No wonder we love having sex and making love!

Sex offers health benefits to men as well.  When men ejaculate frequently, they were less likely to develop prostate cancer.  And sex can help you sleep better because orgasm stimulates the release of another hormone called, prolactin, a natural sleep aide, which promotes feeling of relaxation and sleepiness. We are wired for social connection, so having sex makes us happier and healthier.  Sex is known as the anti-aging solution.   Regular sex releases other hormones that keep us feeling and looking young, leading to possibly living longer, extending our lifespan, and boosting our brain power.   As you can see, there are many benefits of sex, feeling renewed, alive, vibrant, nurtured, validated, loved, appreciated, and accepted unconditionally!

Relationships and Sexual Performance

Man seducing unsure woman

Healthy sexual relationships are built on the understanding that men and women’s sexual needs and desires are different, sometimes one having a bigger sexual appetite than the other.  When both people are in sync with each other, during the act of sex, they may both forget about the everyday issues and just concentrate on the pleasures of the body. The more they kiss, embrace and love each other up, the more love they feel. However, for men, when the act of sex is prevalent, feelings of performance anxiety can sometimes come into play.  A woman can “fake” her way through sex and orgasm, but not a man. A man cannot hide the fact that he is not able to get an erection. It can be both humiliating and embarrassing, which makes matters worse.

When the fear of erectile dysfunction enters the picture, it becomes a huge factor in the ability to perform. There are several possible reasons for this occurrence.  Nervousness from a first new sexual encounter is pretty common and could cause sexual dysfunction, the stress of “performing” is a factor. It is usually manifests first mentally or emotionally, which effects the physical reaction. Also, being overweight or having high cholesterol can also be a cause, which is a result of a health and physical issue. The result is narrowing the arteries of the vascular system, preventing the blood from flowing to the penis.  Other causes may include low testosterone levels, smoking, alcohol or drug abuse, nerve damage from diabetes, injury or recent surgery. For women, painful sex from dryness or thinning of the tissue, can cause performance anxiety, as well as low estrogen levels after menopause. And, of course, men and women’s performance can also be impacted by chronic illnesses, cancer treatments and certain medications, along with depression.

If performance anxiety is not addressed, it can affect the relationship, even watching the relationship become “asexual”.  But when both partners are willing to not make a big deal out of it and are patient, understanding and supportive, then you can take baby steps through patiently finding other ways to enjoy each other sexually that doesn’t involve intercourse.  And, it’s a good idea to seek sexual counseling from a professional who can help you navigate through the sensitive issues, while keeping peace between both partners, helping to control any anxiety that may arise.

In the End Love is All There Is

As you have read throughout this article, the most important part in any relationship is love, giving it, receiving it, and sharing it, will always be the “magical” elixir that helps soothe the psyche and heal the soul in order to handle any condition or circumstance that occurs in relationships.  We all age. We all change. And, at some point, we will all die. Enjoy the journey of your life while you are living. Be all that you can be. Be supportive of your partner. Enjoy each other. Enjoy having sex.  Enjoy the pleasure that you get to feel being in a physical body. And, bring love into everything you do.

It’s your life.  Enjoy the journey.  And, remember to bring love into everything you do.