Clinical sexologist Dr. Patti Britton has helped many Boomers rediscover romance. She urges couples to shift their mindset so they can reset their sensual lives. Part of this shift is acknowledging issues in aging that can impact sex, desire, and confidence, as well as giving up the expectation of sexual athletics in the bedroom.
“As we age, things slow down, dry up, and droop,” says Britton. In addition, she points to back and knee problems, severe weight gain, cancer (and cancer treatment), diabetes, and heart conditions as realities of aging that can affect sexuality. And of course many of the medications prescribed for these issues also affect sexual desire.
“Looking at pleasure over the course of a lifetime,” Britton observes, “as humans age, often the result is leaning more into sensual practices.” She urges couples to continue intimacy by becoming more aware and adapting healthy practices into their relationships.
Finding the Right Touch
Britton formulated what she calls a “continuum of touch” to identify five levels of touch
people may seek and experience together: healing, affectionate, sensual, erotic, and sexual. She explains them this way:
- Healing: A touch you might receive from a massage therapist, friend, nurse, or a partner who is channeling energy through their hands.
- Affectionate: A touch to show friendship, caring, and nurturing, perhaps on the hand or shoulder.
- Sensual: Touch that offers sensory pleasure, like a lingering caress on the small of the back. It can bring two people closer and can lead to the next two levels.
- Erotic: An intimate and arousing touch that may include foreplay to sexual union.
- Sexual: Touch that can include anything two partners choose to experience together, from kissing to deeper union with one another. It leads to sexual pleasure.
Sensual Touch Is in the Center
Britton was a member of the Advisory Committee of the World Association of Sexual Health when it adopted a statement affirming that pleasure itself is a part of sexual health and sexual rights. Indeed, pleasure can be the goal; intercourse does not have to be the final aim.
[Read: “3 Sensual Practices to Do With Your Partner Tonight (That Aren’t About Sex).”]
Britton sees sensual touch as something that can stand alone, although it can be a warmup that moves couples further into an experience of sexual pleasure.
“If we look at sensuality versus sexuality, the difference is the intention that we set, whether we intend to be sensual or sexual,” she says. “In the center of those five levels is our sensual touch. And so, touch can become a message we give to another person.”
While sensual touch may be the starting point, there are no limitations. At the same time, there should be no pressure. “We can escalate up these steps or stages or types of touch,” she says. “We can move toward more sensuality for connecting with a partner, and we can stop at sensuality. Or we can move up and move toward sexual energy and touch exchange.”
Five Sensual Couples Practices for Healthy Aging
1. Invigorate all the senses. “Sensuality is a giant container, in a way, for the experience that the joys of our body can give us because our physical self is governed by our senses,” she says. “Eyesight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. There are always going to be ways to enhance the pleasurable experience of awakening one, or all, of the senses.”
[Read: “What Is Sensual Cooking?”]
2. Try removing a sense. This can enhance the other senses. “Experiment putting a gentle satin eye guard on and see how that feels, or why not cover your ears with a headset so that you can’t hear your partner?” Delight in what touch feels like with eyes closed or enhanced sensual sights around you when you can’t hear. These things can amp up the sensuality.
3. Kiss for a long time. Sensual connection can be enhanced by the simple act of kissing on the lips, especially when couples carry on for an extended period of time. Kissing can reconnect you to your original romance and stir hormones that make you feel happier.
4. Massage more than shoulders. Shoulder rubs and massaging the back are great ways to establish sensual contact. Legs, hips, and feet can use attention, too. Many forms of caressing can be pleasurable. Britton says to touch in “more deliberate ways” and get to know your partner’s skin. Be aware of how they respond.
5. Practice sensual mindfulness. Britton encourages couples to practice sharing moments of just being in one another’s presence. “You want to make sure you are each present, centered, and conscious of what is in the moment,” she notes. Whether seated or lying down, sense the place and your own body, noticing what’s going on and connecting to sensations in your physical being. Inhale deeply, slow down your breathing, and be aware of what’s around you, including your partner. Try to consciously connect to your partner’s energy and share the moment together. You can also hold hands to enhance your sensual connection to one another.
Don’t Forget to Remove Distractions
It is natural for people to feel a little shy and unsure as they attempt new ways of sensual connection. Britton has spent decades helping couples find their way back to each other and she says removing distractions is as important as adding sensual practices. She suggests creating sensual spaces in your home, such as a clean and inviting bedroom with beautiful sheets, so that you are not distracted by clutter, messiness, or unpleasant odors. Also, leave cell phones and devices outside the door, at least for designated periods of time. Another challenge is to make sure pets do not get between you in your intimate spaces. Do all you can to stay in the moment with one another.
Growing Apart? Consider “5 Ways to Revive Your Couple Bubble.”