By Walker Thornton
[This article originally appeared on www.kinkly.com and is republished with permission]
September is World Sexual Health month, a global initiative to draw attention to the issue of sexuality in a sex-positive way. The American Sexual Health Association is spearheading the American efforts with a particular focus on Boomer Sexuality. The World Association for Sexual Health (WAS) defines sexual health as:
A state of physical, emotional, mental and social wellbeing in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.
While the month is almost over, the challenge to increase awareness of sexual health is something we need to focus on every day. It’s reassuring to see major organizations supporting the sexuality of older adults.
What exactly does sexual health mean when applied to those of us who are considered boomers? It’s about more than just going to the doctor – sexual health awareness is about taking care of your own sexual well-being as well as working to promote a sex-positive world. We can attend to our personal sexual health through:
- Scheduling regular checkups with our gynecologist or internist (pelvic exams for women, prostate exams for men).
- Understanding the importance of sexual activity in keeping our bodies healthy.
- Practicing consensual sexual activities.
- Promoting a sex-positive attitude in the home, workplace and community that excludes shaming, harassment, and sexual violence.
- Understanding the risks of unprotected sex, at any age. This may include learning about STIs, using condoms to reduce or eliminate the risk of transmission of disease, and getting regular tests to detect STIs.
- Seeking out sex education for individuals of all ages, even boomers and seniors.
More specifically, here are some activities both men and women can do at home, to improve their sexual health:
Do Kegel Exercises
Kegels help with urinary flow issues and also work to exercise and strengthen vaginal tissue for women. Think Kegels are only good for women? Wrong! Kegels for men are important to sexual health as well. According to urologist Dr. Andrew L. Siegel, “These muscles are the backboard of sexual and urinary health. Men have the same network of pelvic floor muscles that women do, extending like a hammock from the tailbone to the pubic bone. The muscles support the back, abdomen, bladder and bowel, and help maintain fecal and urinary continence. In men, these muscles surround the base of the penis. They are activated during erection, orgasm and ejaculation, and are responsible for the surge of blood flow to the penis.” Some doctors believe that increased blood flow to the penis helps to lessen erectile dysfunction.
Have Regular Sex (and use lube)
Sex is good for us in so many ways, but mostly because it helps promote feelings of well-being. Orgasms produce oxytocin, which helps decrease pain. During sex, arousal and penetration also increases blood flow to the vagina, which helps keep vaginal tissues supple, making them less likely to thin and tear. Men who have sex regularly are thought to have fewer prostate problems. In order to make regular sex a more pleasurable reality, use lube to help things glide more easily and increase sensations for both partners. (To learn about lubes, check out The Ins and Outs of Sexual Lubricants).
Educate Yourself About Sex
Learning is a continuous process, so don’t beat yourself up if you feel under-informed about topics such as sexual positions, erectile dysfunction, how to find the right sex toy, which lube is best, how to talk about STIs, or definition of polyamory, for example. Kinkly has a wealth of information about sex and sexual health and my website, WalkerThornton.com features content specifically geared to older adults.
Think of Yourself as a Sexual Person
Society doesn’t do a very good job of acknowledging older individuals as sexual beings. The ability to view yourself as sexy or sexual will help you feel more interested in sex. You might redefine what sex means for you in terms of activities you enjoy in later years, but what’s important is feeling comfortable with your body and desires and exploring this, either through interaction with another person, or by performing solo acts of self-pleasure. (Learn more about the importance of sexual confidence in 10 Things You Don’t Know About Self Love).
Although World Sexual Health Month is a wonderful way to raise awareness about sexuality, in an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to designate a specific month to focus on our sexual health, as it would last all year. So, go out and get sexy this week, next week, and through the weeks to come. There is no expiration date on your sexuality.
Walker Thornton has a Master’s degree in Educational Psychology and writes extensively about sexuality, relationships, sexual health, and caregiving. With an interest in sexual health and aging, she says “As we make the transition from youthful to wise and mature, we have a common desire to explore our lives, and give voice to our joys and our wisdom. Midlife women possess a wealth of knowledge. And, we want to learn more. I view knowledge as a powerful force—sharing strengthens us and bonds us together.” Her website is walkerthornton.com.