Sexuality education starts in infancy and continues through childhood. It’s in adolescence, though, that we develop conscious models of proper sexual functioning, sexual goals and sexual relationships. Many people, unfortunately, retain that adolescent model throughout their lives, even though both our relationships and our bodies have changed by adulthood.

So although we may want something different from sex, and are probably using different equipment, we’re making love using the same old conceptual model. And that often leads to disappointment. Perhaps we don’t function as we used to, and we don’t know how to create satisfaction. Or even if we function the way we used to, we don’t get the satisfaction we expected.

Thus, it’s crucial to update your internal models of sexuality. You wouldn’t run a new computer on old software; well, all adults need an updated version of their sexual software. That might include:

  • New assumptions about what you need to get excited
  • New criteria for choosing a partner
  • New expectations about your sexual functioning
  • New ideas about what “good sex” includes
  • New communication skills for when sex doesn’t go the way you want

Ultimately, we all need adult ideas about how our adult bodies should function sexually, and the kinds of emotional communication we want with a partner. As we age, our bodies often become less dependable, and our sexual functioning more vulnerable to disruption. It’s critical to de-emphasize the role of our genitalia in sexual satisfaction.

Being stuck with the old software limits how well our sexual hardware will work – and no amount of anger, shame or regret will change that. What makes it hard to change our software?

We don’t want to admit we’re getting older. We’re afraid we won’t be sexual if we can’t depend on our genitalia. We don’t have exciting models of adult sexuality, so we’re stuck with adolescent ones. We’re afraid we’ll be abandoned.

Change your software so your body’s hardware can work as well as possible – and so you can get the emotional satisfaction that adult sexuality has to offer.

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Midlife Myth: Your sex life has seen better days, and decline is all you have to look forward to.

If sex is just about raging hormones and feats of stamina, youth takes the prize.

But there is so much more to the complete picture of sex and intimacy, says Dr. Bernie Zilbergeld, author of The New Male Sexuality.

Zilbergeld believes the following are more important than age:

  • The quality of openness, sensitivity and communication in your relationship.
  • The ability to focus on both giving and receiving.
  • The level of comfort and trust shared by you and your partner.
  • Your ability to be “present in the moment” without letting expectations or goals rule you.

With experience can come ever-increasing pleasure. “The lucky ones who have had the benefit of a sensitive, longtime partner — or a number of such partners — know they can keep growing sexually,” says Zilbergeld.

From a “performance” standpoint, there is a difference between young, old and those in between, says Zilbergeld, an Oakland-based sex therapist who currently is working on a myth-busting book about sex in later life.

“What is important is to be a great lover, not a great performer,” he says. “That takes years or decades to get really good at it.”

People in their early adult years tend to leave a lot to be desired in the “great lover” department, he adds.

Zilbergeld alludes to a study of middle-aged people in which nearly four out of 10 rated their sex not as equal or inferior to when they were young adults, but as “better than ever.”

Naturally, there are important health considerations that may be thrown into the mix. But healthy adults of all ages have the ability to grow sexually.

Bottom line: Sex is more about relating and mutual pleasure-giving than about objective standards of performance.

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Enlightened couples are coached to perpetually ask: “how does that make you feel?” We’re taught to believe that an intimate relationship is about active listening and highly evolved communication — all the time.

While we shouldn’t throw those ideals out altogether, sometimes couples say crappy things to each other. And so what if they do? Maybe it’s time we reined in our New Age urge to say everything just so, and learned the fine art of letting it go.

In a close, healthy relationship, off-color comments are more likely a reflection of a negative mood than a true crisis, according to Richard Carlson, a psychologist and author of You Can Be Happy No Matter What.

Let’s assume for the moment we’re not talking about a pattern of hostility, or true passive aggressive behavior that shouldn’t be ignored.

There is a reason unfortunate remarks are a normal part of couplehood. When you live with someone through it all — solving problems together, traveling together, sleeping together and cursing the bills together — you experience the person sans social politeness.

“The more time we spend with someone, the more likely we are going to see them in their low moods,” writes Carlson.

Don’t overanalyze the specific words and phrases made offhandedly by your mate, urges Carlson. “So often, just letting others alone while they are in a low state of mind is all they need,” he says. “The last thing they need or want is someone questioning or arguing with them.”

Not every imperfect exchange needs to lead to a therapy session, says self-esteem author Jerry Minchinton.

We tend to be more courteous and sensitive around the people we don’t know so well, he says. This is because nearly all occasions with friends and acquaintances are by definition more formal and circumspect than those with a loved one.

When we stop worrying about politeness and flattery, we start to get at the good stuff. “[Heated discussions] aren’t all bad,” asserts Minchinton. “Getting the raw material — even if some of it has to be discounted — means you are at a deeper level.”

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Category : Blog
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