It’s been said that sex in midlife is like going to the gym: you know you should probably do it a couple of times a week, but work, children and a mountain of life admin always seem to get in the way, leaving you too tired to bother (and vowing to do it next week instead).
But, just like regular exercise, research shows that continuing to have sex in later life improves your overall health and immunity, reduces your risk of depression and heart disease, makes you smarter and look younger, as well as strengthening your relationship.
“In theory, we should all be having more sex in midlife because the stresses of the child-rearing years have eased off, couples know each other’s bodies far better and those body hangups that can preoccupy younger people seem less concerning,” says Janice Hiller, a consultant clinical psychologist and relationship therapist. “However, couples may have also spent years becoming increasingly tired, neglecting their relationship or resenting each other. But it’s worth getting things back on track for your health and happiness.”
So, how can you maintain a midlife sex life?
Have a sex schedule
Ask any busy midlifer and they’ll tell you there are only a few sex-windows in the week – the mornings are generally too rushed (especially if you have children to get off to school and a train to catch), evenings go by in a blur of cooking and box-sets, and weekends seem to be increasingly full of neighbour’s BBQs and DIY. So what’s the answer?
In four words: have a sex schedule. Researchers from Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany, announced this week that – while crushingly unromantic – scheduling in a time and date for sex each week (and sticking to it, as you would a work meeting) is the key to keeping your sex life going. The researchers interviewed almost 1,000 couples and found those who were “thorough and dutiful” in their sex schedules had more satisfying and regular sex lives as a result.
According to Barbara Bloomfield, a Relate therapist and author of Couples Therapy: Dramas of Love and Sex, middle-aged women increasingly have what’s called ‘reactive arousal’, whereas middle-aged men still have ‘primary arousal’. “This means a man will be able to just look at something he finds attractive and feel aroused,” says Barbara. “Whereas reactive arousal means women need time to become aroused, by being cuddled, kissed and plenty of foreplay.
“Long kisses – around 15 seconds – are incredibly effective in improving libido. I’ve advised this technique with many of my couples through Relate and while it’s very simple, it works. So rather than just having a peck on the lips, enjoy longer kisses.’”
Get an early night
And not because of why you think. A recent US study published in the health journal Menopause found women over 50 who slept for fewer than five hours a night had less satisfying sex lives. “When you’re tired, your sex drive is the first thing to go,” says nutritionist Marilyn Glenville, author of The Natural Health Bible for Women.
She recommends increasing your levels of magnesium, which has muscle and nerve-calming properties and is found in fish, dark green leafy vegetables and pumpkin and sunflower seeds. Or try a supplement like Wild Nutrition Food-Grown Magnesium (£16.50 for 30 capsules).
The healthier you are, the healthier your sex life will be. “Feeling healthy and fit will make you feel sexier, so as well as getting enough sleep, follow a balanced diet, don’t drink too much, manage your stress levels and exercise regularly,” says Marilyn. “Good fats, found in oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocado and oils, are important for boosting libido because sex hormones like testosterone are manufactured from the cholesterol contained within those foods.
“Foods rich in zinc, like spinach, beef and kidney beans, also play an important role in the production of sex hormones.
… And keep your relationship healthy too
It sounds obvious, but you have to be happy together to want to have sex in the first place: “I often find in clinic that things like feeling disrespected or undermined outside of the bedroom have just as much of an impact on libido, if not more, than things like tiredness or hormonal changes,” says Janice Hiller. “So if a couple are having therapy for a poor sex life, I’ll often get them to work on issues outside the bedroom first.
“The most common issues I see are women who feel they’re not listened to and men who feel their partner complains or gets angry with them, which causes them to retreat further. So I tell couples to talk through their problems in a calm, non-threatening nor demanding way, and express how they’re feeling about certain things.
“Once they’ve worked through those problems, the sex one tends to resolve itself.”
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