If you’re thinking about breaking a long sex drought, the first person you need to talk to isn’t your potential lover; it’s your doctor, according to sex educator and writer Maureen Mathews.
It may sound like a romance crusher, but those who haven’t seen sexual action for a long time may need a refresher on how to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections (STIs), as well as having realistic expectations, Maureen says.
‘Don't expect your body to be 16 years old again because it won't be. You can still have a great time, but you've got to work around your own personal, physical limitations and be confident in yourself, not sit there listing all the 27 things about your body that you now hate and that nobody would want to go near,’ Maureen says.
‘Postmenopausal women need to be aware that if you don't use it, you lose it,’ Maureen says. ‘A lot of women have written to me and said that they've engaged in sex and they've found that they're too small or they're dry or it hurts and they were surprised; they didn't realise that, that their body could change so dramatically.’
A visit to their doctor to check whether they need oestrogen pessaries, and to the chemist for a natural personal lubricant is also vital, she says.
‘Older women, in particular, really need to use plenty of lubricant because the walls of the vagina can be thinner. And if you have sex and you don't have a lubricant, you can actually tear the walls and be very sore.’
Men too, may need to talk to their doctor about ensuring everything is in good working order or whether they may need to consider some medical intervention, such as Viagra, as it can become more difficult to become aroused after the age of 50.
‘Men, in particular, often define their masculinity around their ability to perform and it doesn't do them any favours if they get a big complex about it because that's off putting to women. I mean, women can have a great time with somebody they find attractive and not actually have penetrative sex,’ Maureen says.
It's not an Olympic sport
‘It's not an Olympic sport. It's an enjoyable mutual pleasure giving exercise that's fun in and of itself, no matter what you can do.’
The other challenge for those who are looking for a new partner after the end of a long-term relationship, is they are unlikely to be familiar or comfortable with negotiating safe sex, Maureen says.
‘The women don't want to ask the man to wear a condom because they are worried it will spoil the romance of the moment, and men with an unreliable erection are reluctant, because they know that by the time they have stopped to rip open a condom and work out which way it goes, the occasion has probably passed,’ Maureen says.
In the latter case, practise makes perfect, she says.
Ignoring the issue to avoid embarrassment or awkwardness is not an option
‘A lot of people go, "Oh it'll be all right. He hasn't been with anybody else", or, "I haven't been with anyone else", and they turn up with chlamydia or they get herpes or something. And it's pretty grim to get something like that later in life,’ Maureen says.
Many STIs (sexually transmitted infections) can have no signs or symptoms, and they don’t discriminate by age, so there is a chance that you or your partner could be infected without knowing. Whilst condoms protect against most STIs, they don’t protect against all, which is why it’s important to have regular testing. Talk to your local doctor or health service about what STI testing is right for you to maintain your sexual health and wellbeing.
‘If you meet somebody and you both think you're going to be together for a while, you can go to the doctor and get the STI all clear check and then you don't have to worry so much if you're not playing the field. But, if you're planning to go out and have one-night stands or have multiple partners, then you really have to protect yourself and your partner,’ Maureen says.
‘There's this stigma around it but that shouldn't prevent you from doing and saying whatever you need to do to protect yourself so you can go on having fun — because no one's going to have fun with chlamydia.’
For more information speak to your GP or visit the Better Health .
Author and sex educator, Maureen Matthews.
Reviewed 21 December 2022