Does this scenario with your spouse happen night after night? Where is the intimacy, the excitement and joy of sex? How did making that connection with your spouse get lost, crowded out on the to-do list by mere household chores and end of the day fatigue?
The truth is, a loving relationship needs sex. Not every week, mind you, but often enough so that you can know that you’re loved, cherished, and can experience all those health-boosting hormones that flood the body during physical intimacy. You need it often enough that you can express and share those loving feelings with your spouse.
Is sex really that important?
A perfect relationship may be beyond the grasp of science, but we’ve studied a lot about what successful couples do. Sex is up there with top priorities. Regardless of age, the more sex you have, the higher the level of relationship satisfaction and good health. The two are closely tied.
One notable study in 2012 from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health looked at 732 married couples, aged 65 to 92, and data from the 2010 to 2011 wave of the National Social Life Health and Aging Project (NSHAP). NSHAP, which started in 2005 at the University of Chicago, is a population-based study of health and social factors as they relate to the well-being of older Americans.
Researchers examined the 2010 to 2011 data from in-home interviews and testing of “biomeasures” – including blood pleasure, waist circumference, blood and saliva samples, and function of smell, taste, touch and vision. They made a direct tie between more frequent sexual activity and higher marital quality.
They also found a positive, high-quality marriage translated to better mental and physical health. If a little more canoodling can keep you in good health, why not?
Well, I can’t imagine my elderly parents getting busy too often. But I do know that when they’ve been away for a weekend or on vacation, they both look happier and refreshed. What happens on vacation stays on vacation, of course, and my family was never one to open up about intimate matters.
However, experts say the key to reigniting your sex life is to learn how to communicate about your sexual needs or your reasons for not wanting sex. That may be a lot to expect from an older generation brought up to keep quiet about sexual needs and desires, but broaching the subject of sex, and finding a middle ground when it comes to frequency, is important for overall relationship satisfaction.
Eat for a better libido
Just because you’re a senior doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy sex anymore. As with all good things, it’s something you have to work at. You have to make it a priority and schedule it in just like date night or dinner with an old friend.
Maybe your fading sex life is not just about falling out of the habit or lack of energy. Maybe you feel as though your libido has just got up and left, permanently…
Well, conversation with your partner is one building block for better sex, but food can play a major role as well. There are conventional aphrodisiacs like oysters and chocolate-dipped strawberries (love those!), but these are more “special occasion” treats.
I’d like you to consider other foods you can work into your daily diet – or swap out – to rev your energy and stoke your libido.
Get more protein from plants: I enjoy a great steak as much as the next person, but red meat can be high in saturated fats which can clog your arteries and prevent good circulation and blood flow. Our private parts need good blood flow to function well!
Saturated fat can also raise your “bad” LDL cholesterol levels that hamper libido and sexual performance. Instead of letting red meat
Protein is essential, but have that quality cut of red meat on rare occasion. Try to get more protein from plants, like nuts, seeds, soy and legumes. There are a lot of options and recipes to sample. A kidney bean chili can be something to really dig into and savor!
Better sex by eating cereal: For a quick breakfast, there is something to be said for cereal out of a box. If you choose a 100 percent whole grain one that’s low in sugar, you can benefit from the added zinc. Most boxed cereals are fortified with zinc, but the refined flour and sugar negate the benefits of added nutrients.
Zinc is a terrific sex-enhancer – it’s what makes oysters a potent aphrodisiac. The Cleveland Clinic reports that zinc also helps preserve testosterone, while zinc deficiency has been linked with impotence.
Swap out the junk food: Are cookies and chips part of your nightly TV-watching routine? Junk food is high in refined carbs, sugars and trans fats, the stuff that’s bad for blood flow and can cause inflammation. Poor blood flow won’t put you in the mood for sex, and inflammation can mean pain and discomfort, so the last thing you’ll feel like is a roll in the hay.
Instead of junk food, try snacking on fresh-cut vegetables and fruit, with a little yogurt dip on the side. The trick is to cut and prep ahead of time and have them ready to go in containers in your fridge. The nutrients and fiber of fruits and vegetables boost your immune system and protect you from cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. They make you strong, healthy and energized for sex.
Will that be coffee or chai tea? Try switching out your coffee after dinner for a cup of chai tea. The traditional Indian beverage is spiced for lovemaking. Its ginger, cloves and cinnamon will get your blood flowing, but the caffeine effect is less so you’ll still be able to get to sleep easily. Coffee is a stimulant that increases heart rate and blood flow to boost your sex drive, so you can still enjoy a cup or three during the day; just consider avoiding it at night.
One study in the journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Behavior found that female rats that had their first shot of caffeine before mating were faster than uncaffeinated female rats to hurry back to the male rat after sex – for round two!
Spice things up with chilies: Instead of using salt to season your food, try chili flakes. Too much salt can put you at risk for high blood pressure, which can affect blood flow – poor blood flow is a libido-killer.
Chili peppers, on the other hand, can warm you up in all the right places. They contain capsaicin, a chemical that stimulates feel-good endorphins, speeds up heart rate and makes you sweat, mimicking the state of sexual arousal. Sprinkle flakes on your pasta, soups, stews and more.
Try nature’s sweetener: When it comes to the birds and the bees, honey is a symbol of procreation. The word “honeymoon” got its name from mead, an alcoholic beverage made from honey and offered to the bride and groom.
There’s more to this natural sweetener: Honey also contains boron, an essential nutrient which helps regulate estrogen and testosterone levels and provides a natural energy boost (both good for sex).
My bottom line? Don’t abandon your sex life just because you’ve got a few aches and pains along with those grey hairs. With age, comes wisdom, and a deeper understanding and appreciation for the ones who are closest to us. So give your sex life some consideration – and start building more healthy foods into your diet.
The payoff will not only boost your desire for physical intimacy, it will make your relationship more positive and fulfilling. That’s a gift for you both!
Karen Hawthorne is managing editor at Health eTalk and BelMarraHealth.com. Karen has worked for the National Post, Postmedia News, CBC Radio Vancouver, the Edmonton Journal, the Kitchener-Waterloo Record and the Cobourg Daily Star, reporting on health news and lifestyle trends for over 15 years.