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Some Truth About Sex and Aging

A Dialogue Between
William Martin

and
Andrew Atwood
DrAtwood@HopefulSolutions.net


This e-Report is rather special for two important reasons:

  • It is in response to a question posed by one of our visitors, a question posed in the discussion forum. You can find Hounddog’s email below in which he posed a question about sex and aging.
  • After reflecting on just how intense a struggle this seemed for Hounddog, and how common the struggle is among our aging visitors, I decided to engage my dear friend, author, and spiritual guide, William Martin, in some dialogue around the struggle. You will find our emails below. Bill has traveled the country in some small way, leading workshops and seminars on “Sage-ing.” His wisdom is invaluable. Bill’s tradition is Taoism, a philosophy of life and being that springs from the Book of Tao, a translation of which Bill has himself published. More on that later.

But first, let me make some observations about sex and aging.

22
Relationship Paradoxes

Paradoxes abound in love
and they must be fully lived.
Being wounded is the only way to healing.
Being at fault is the only path to forgiveness.
Feeling empty allows for satisfaction.
Longing for another brings passion’s fulfillment.


Paradoxes cannot be solved
as problems are solved.
They can only be accepted
and cherished.
Are the current issues in your relationship problems,
Or paradoxes?

It is common for there to be some reduction in sexual behavior as we age. “Some reduction” is normal. The challenge is to figure out how much, when, and why… and then, of course, how to adapt.

Men tend to loose some of their desire for sex, and tend not to be so easily aroused. Because of an increase in the arousal threshold, it simply takes more to get turned on. Once an older man does achieve an erection, it tends not to last as long. And, it can take longer to reach orgasm, or there are more occasions where orgasm doesn’t even occur.

Similarly, women report that there is some reduction in sexual desire, an increased likelihood of discomfort during intercourse, and, as expected, a decreasing ability to experience orgasm.

Vascular challenges in older men are common as well. Maybe half the men over 50 face the challenge of impotence. The impact of this depends on so many factors, no the least of which is the man’s level of maturity.

One big, really BIG factor that has to be considered as we age is the particular list of medications that are being taken. Many, many of the common medications prescribed to people over 50 have an impact on sexual desire and behavior. It is always smart to talk with one’s doctor, pharmacist, or to do an online search of all of your medications for negative side-effects and contraindications for use.

Big illnesses – diabetes, hypertension, or prostate problems – are common among those over 50.

In the text boxes you find quotes from William Martin’s book The Couple’s Tao Te Ching – a new interpretation. Ancient Advice for Modern Lovers. For more on Bill’s books, or to purchase, visit www.TheStillPoint.com

But not all challenges are physical! Some are cultural, such as our often-held belief that older people “just don’t do it like they used to.” Examine your belief system because those cultural beliefs may not be worth holding. Aging is another step along the journey of life. It is a time for greater wisdom; this is the subject around which Bill Martin and I respond to Hounddog.

Relationship issues can be involved as well. Maybe you just aren’t into each other as much anymore.

And then there are all sorts of mental and emotional challenges that can thwart your sexual behavior. Depression is a big one. Loss of identity, of vocation, of meaning and purpose… all can conspire to take the air right out of your sexual desire.

Here is a great link for you to check out. Richard Sadovsky, MD, who is Associate Professor of Family Practice at the State University of New York, Brooklyn, has put up this very useful website. Take a look at it. It is in a pdf format, so know that ahead of time. You will learn much.

http://www.aafp.org/PreBuilt/2003lectures/sex60/slides_color.pdf

Now, let’s take a look first at the challenge that Hounddog has written about, and the dialogue that happened between Bill Martin and myself as we worked to respond to Hounddog.


Dear Dr. Atwood,

To be blunt my sex life stinks! It is disappearing!

I have researched the problem for a while. I have read many of Dr. Atwood’s articles. None of the social problems outlined could cause this problem with my wife and I. Our lives are too good, tranquil, pleasurable, full of life, and happiness.

I am 80 years old and have been physically active all of my life and I still am. That activity has done its part of keeping the free T level up as will as it has. Yes, I am still active but not as much as I was up till about my 76th birthday. Now each morning I do my ski exercises for 25 minutes and then swim for 30 minuets. I bike when the NW weather allows, about one to three hours, but it hasn’t been much lately. Last spring my wife and I hiked the national parks of Utah for 21 hikes that would destroy most of my young friends.

Sex for me has been a big thing. When I had a partner, I had intercourse on the average of about 20 to 25 times a month, right up till I was passed 76 or 77 years old. At that point my wife 66yo and I both got to a point where the frequency got less and less. We slowed down to about once a week and wondered what is wrong with us. We talked about it and just wondered. We did not worry about it because sex was wonderful when we did it. We just did not seem to care.

Now in the last few weeks it doesn’t seem to be fun for me any longer. A few times when I have been inside of her I have had a passing thought, “I don’t feel a thing, why should I do this, it has always been so much fun!” About 25% of the time for the past several years orgasms have been hard to come by. The last two times during intercourse my penis has gone flaccid while I was inside her. Ten years ago I used to wish I had two wives so that I could carry on while the first was exhausted with three of four orgasms.

So, is there anyone out there that has some helpful solution or good ideas?

Hounddog


Dear Bill,

I’ve got a favor to ask of you. I’ve received an email, actually an entry into our Discussion Forum at www.HopefulSolutions.net, that involves issues of sexuality and aging. I was wondering if you would be willing to work with me to frame an answer to “Hounddog.” Frankly, if you said no I’d be surprised, so I am going to move ahead assuming your willingness to join with me in thinking through a response.

So find Hounddogs email pasted in this email, and let me know what you think. Let the dialogue begin!

Andy

Dr. Andrew D. Atwood, LMFT
DrAtwood@HopefulSolutions.net


Andy,

Sure I’ll help. This sounds like an interesting little project for us.

Several things about Hounddog’s complaint interest me. He says his life is, "good, tranquil, pleasurable, full of life, and happiness." It has been my experience that when life presents us with enjoyable circumstances, our conditioned mind frantically scans to find a problem. In our tradition we call it the, "something wrong mind." This is not to say that his problem is not real, but it seems to be intruding itself into a basically pleasant life.

37
Natural Desires

Relationships can be distorted
by the artificial creation of desire
by those who use words
on behalf of sellers of goods.
These artificially created desires
can never be adequately satisfied
because they are not natural.
Natural desires have their fulfillment
contained within them
for they emerge from the Tao
and are satisfied by the Tao.


It may be helpful to talk some evening about what you truly want.
Happiness? – How will you know?
Success?- How do you measure it?
Possessions?- What and why?
How is your relationship affected
by each of these desires?
Which emerge from your center and which are imposed from without?
Consider carefully.

Sex seems to have been a defining characteristic for him and he is certainly supported in this by our cultural conditioning. When sexual intercourse becomes too tightly grasped as self-definition it narrows the scope and limits the possibilities of enjoyment and pleasure.

It may be that the more "Yin", or receptive side of his nature is finally demanding attention. Without renouncing the pleasure of sex, it may be time to look at a wider, more expansive experience of sensuality. The wisdom of the sage is desperately needed in our society. Perhaps the "sage-ing" energy within him is demanding to be heard. Life might be asking him to widen his self-definition and his experience of joy.

From the perspective of the Zen Buddhist/Taoist path, it is the clinging to definitions, forms, and experiences that brings great suffering. Enjoying all of the experiences of life without clinging is truly the way of bliss, but it is deeply counter cultural. I hope he is able to explore solutions to his problem without feeling that he must cling to outdated definitions. I hope he can find ways to surf the waves and shoot the rapids of the Sage.

It will be interesting to continue to dialogue this issue. In one form or another it is the issue we all share.

Bill


The Still Point
2289 E. 8th Street
Chico, CA 95928
530-321-5392
www.thestillpoint.com


Bill,

Yes, that quote you pulled up... life is "good, tranquil, pleasurable, full of life, and happiness" is rather remarkable. If this gentleman's life is that blissfull, and he has been having sex 20 to 25 times a month up to the age of 76, and it has subsequently dropped off to something closer to a weekly event now... I'm inclined to say he has already been to heaven!

Interesting definition of the "something wrong mind." To some extent we have learned that life has its ups and downs, and they together are the whole of life. To embrace life in its fullest is to embrace the yin and yang, the up and down, the hot and the cold, the young and the old. It is all life. Lots of sex, and no sex.

Aging, as you and I have talked before, is so much about letting go, which is why aging itself is a wonderful spiritual discipline. If maturing in the spiritual life is about moving beyond the ego, then aging is the natural process of spiritual maturing. My observation is that Hounddog is, as you say, like so many of us; he is attached to something that gives his life essential meaning, and that to which he is attached is slipping away. That is frightening for any of us when it happens, and, of course, aging and its consequences is what is guaranteed to happen to each of us if we live long enough to experience it. Aging is real. The loss of sexual desire is real at some point along the journey of life for almost all people. The degree to which we are attached to sexual desire equates to the degree of our anxiety about its loss.

You mention the grasping on to sexual intercourse that Hounddog, God bless him, seems to be doing. Bill, we are all attached to stuff. To ideas, values, principles... yes, even intangible stuff. Makes me wonder what I will have to let go of as I age....

There is such profound wisdom in your observation that life might be demanding a wider embrace, an enlarging Yin. This is about going with the flow in the most noble sense.

In a follow up email I learned that Hounddog and his wife were off to their Doc to have their testosterone levels checked. Interesting. This is, it seems to me, an effort to hold-on, to cling as you say Bill, to the attachment of the frequency of sexual intercourse. I appreciate Hounddog's willingness to take care of the physical issues, but I so hope he learns to accept what is, and to go with the flow (the Tao) as well.

There seems to be a balance here, doesn't there? Bill, I guess I'm looking for your reaction at this point. It is good to address the testosterone level issue, but it is also good to accept what is and to broaden one's perspective.

How does Hounddog, or anyone in such a situation, find that balance between doing and being?

I await your Sage advice.

Andy

Dr. Andrew D. Atwood, LMFT
DrAtwood@HopefulSolutions.net


Andy,

How does Hounddog, or anyone else, find the balance between doing and being? I guess this balance is a fundamental issue in aging, but also for anyone at any time. Part of the dilemma we create is in seeing these two things as polar opposites in a duality. I wonder if there is a way we can, as part of our spiritual process, begin to encompass the dualistic elements of life in a broader whole?

The Taoist concept of "wu-wei" (which literally means, "not-doing doing," or, "effortless effort.") is an attempt to encompass these dualities. It is not, as it is often unfairly accused, a passive approach to life. It can imply great energy and force, but always moving in cooperation with, rather than in opposition to, the Tao - the flow of life. So Hounddog could go ahead and get his testosterone checked, but do it with a quality of, "this is just the next step," without attaching the, "something's wrong and I need to fix it," to the process. Wu-wei, therefore, allows me to "do" and "be" at the same time. My doing grows out of my non-suffering accepting being. But if my doing comes from, as it so often does, a sense of something wrong that I must fix, I have moved away from being. I am attempting to stand outside of my life and to somehow fix it from that illusory position.

Aging could be a time of being-doing, instead of continuing to live our cultural myth of doing as the absurd attempt to stand somewhere outside of life and tinker with it.

Here's to the Hounddog in all of us. (I've noticed that I haven't been having enough sex lately.)

Bill

The Still Point
2289 E. 8th Street
Chico, CA 95928
530-321-5392
www.thestillpoint.com


Bill,

The doing-being struggle is real for everyone, as we both know, because we both continue to struggle with it. Me probably more than you at this point. All our visitors, everyone reading this, struggles with the doing-being struggle.

Hounddog is facing that issue now, probably has before, and probably will again. I hear it in my business consulting... balancing work and home. Same, or similar struggle.

And there is another place I hear it, and contribute to it to some extent... self-help books! Now this may not apply to your books, but let me give you an example. Over the weekend I'll finish reading John C. Maxwell's book Thinking for a Change: 11 Ways Highly Successful People Approach Life and Work. I've enjoyed the book and found it to be helpful. Good suggestions about modifying thoughts in order to be more functional and effective in life. Or consider my own ebooks on solutions for those in a sexless marriage.

To what extent is it helpful to work at living well?

I'm thinking of our friend Hounddog again. When is it appropriate to release and go with the flow, and when is it appropriate to work at creating something? You introduce an answer when you suggest that Hounddog could go get the testosterone test, but not attach an anxious urgency to it; that he do it more neutrally than fearfully, or aggressively. I would like you to say something more about the state of consciousness that a do-be-do-be-do (sounds like Frank Sinatra) way would look like. I'm trying to get a picture in my mind of what it would look like, and how I would think. Yes, what thinking would I have going on in my head, or would Hounddog have going on in his head, if he became balanced between doing and being? Some help from you right here would be good.

And I have to tell you this... last weekend we drove up to the Cabin for the weekend and on the highway there was a billboard, on which was an image of an attractive older woman, and the words were - get this - "You don't have to grow old gracefully - Lakeshore Cosmetology." There it is, right there! Another death defying act!

So, help me with how to think as one who balances doing and being as I age. What would I be saying to myself in my head. Some clarity around this might be enough for us to wrap up this discussion… or to at least invite more conversations to take place in the Discussion Forum at www.HopefulSolutions.net.

Thanks Bill.

Andy

Dr. Andrew D. Atwood, LMFT

DrAtwood@HopefulSolutions.net


Andy,

I return to the Taoist concept of Wu-wei (effortless effort) as I try to reconcile the duality my mind presents between doing and being. I am looking at it in my own life as our Still Point Community is planning to buy land, construct a small retreat center, and move on to it within the next year or two. Such a project really pushes against my natural instinct to withdraw into a false sense of "being" as a way of avoiding risk. Avoiding the risk of venturing out is not what wu-wei is about. Wu-wei suggests that there is a time to let the energy "flow" without the resistance of second thoughts, what-ifs, how abouts, buts, ifs, and other ways of dissipating energy. So I am learning to just "do it" (as much as I hate Nike) Attaching to the result is another form of resistance. Instead of just "doing" I am doing with the resistance of thinking, "this has to work." In Wu-wei, the energy is: "When doing, do! When resting, rest! No resistance to either." So for Hounddog I suppose I am saying, "Make love. Don't make love. Take tests. Don't take tests. It doesn't matter. Just pay attention and do whatever the nature of your body and your life seems to indicate. If it is time to lay down a certain amount of love making, lay it down and see what is there beneath that activity."

Bill

The Still Point
2289 E. 8th Street
Chico, CA 95928
530-321-5392
www.thestillpoint.com


Bill,

I think I've got it! "Just pay attention and do whatever the nature of your body and your life seems to indicate." This is the way of the Tao - do what is
natural so that you can be your natural self. That sounds like "do-be-do-be-do..." eternally.

63
Embrace Your Difficulties

Embrace your difficulties
as they arise in your relationship.
You belong to the Tao and to each other
and therefore need not fear problems.
Since you are not afraid,
you welcome the problems
while they are still small.
Since they are small,
they resolve themselves.


If you are annoyed
or bothered by something.
Don’t be afraid to face it honestly.
You may see that it is trivial
and dismiss it without mention.
Or you may need to bring it up
in the safety of your love.
Either way it becomes a tool
of growth and maturity
instead of a stumbling stone.
If the natural action for Hounddog to take, the action that is congruent with his authentic self, is to work diligently to maintain his sexual prowess, then it would be best for him to follow through. No sense in stifling the natural urge. I think the one further point of clarification for me would be this: if Hounddog is pressing to continue his prowess out of his natural love for a passionately sexual life, then that is probably wise for him, but if he is doing it out of a fear of loosing his passionate sexual life, then it is probably unnatural for him. These might be opposite sides of the same coin, but the difference does seem important to me.

When I think about the urge you two have to expand The Still Point to a location outside of town, and your fear about following through on that, I want to say... "Bill, do-be-do-be-do! Wu-wie! Go with the flow, not the fear!"

As I age I want to do what seems to affirm my natural way of being in the world. My way, which is congruent with my temperament, interests, and so much more, is different than yours. Isn't that wonderful! We get to marvel at each other's natural way of living. It is when I grasp, or avoid out of fear that I drive both myself, and others nuts.

I want to thank you for this dialogue over the last couple of weeks. I want to thank Hounddog as well! It was his passionate pursuit that sparked this dialogue between us.

And here is the wisdom I've gained (or been reminded of), particularly as it relates to "Sex and Aging" - "To thine own self be true, and surely it shall follow as night follows day, that thou wilt be false to no man." Shakespeare wrote that (or something close to that), and my 81-year-old mother has espoused that wisdom her whole life. Sounds like the Tao, wouldn't you say?

When we age we are invited to continue to be true to our own self, not out of fear, but out of love. That is a message I work hard to reinforce in all my writings; a healthy person is someone who can be themselves with others. Living with effortless effort.

Do-be-do-be-do.

Sex and Aging. Be natural, and do naturally.

Wu-Wei!

And hey, I'm looking forward to your upcoming article in Spirituality and Health Magazine. It is a wonderful periodical, and it seems natural for you to have a feature article within their pages.

Thanks again for writing back-and-forth like this. I really appreciate the contribution you've made to our visitors, and to me.

Hope Hounddog appreciates it as well!

Andy


To lean more about William Martin and his many books visit www.TheStillPoint.com

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