I have been taking regular pictures of a large oak tree over the last several months–documenting change brought by the sunlight, the time of day and the changing seasons. It’s a useful reflection as I think about the signs of aging and how women, in particular, adjust to the flow of nature. We learn to accept the impermanence of things.
I’m thinking about how our changing bodies result in changes to our sexuality and our sexual responsiveness.
Last week two women wrote to me with questions about orgasms. Both are examining their sexuality, and exploring what they need in order to experience the kind of pleasure they want from intimacy.
With permission, I’ll share what the first woman wrote:
Good Morning Walker. You seem to have…..so I wanted to pose a question. I know it isn’t an exact science, but on average, how long does it take for a woman to orgasm during intercourse. A lover of mine says that it takes the average woman 10-12 minutes to cum during intercourse. I think he is wrong. He has barely made me cum during intercourse and never in 10-12 minutes.
I had to chuckle at the statement from her lover–more than a few times I’ve heard men make assumptions about how women should be responding sexually. Typically after things aren’t working out to their satisfaction. It seems to crop up when a male partner views himself as a good lover, viewing the act almost like a stage performance. The woman who doesn’t respond as expected is then subtly, or not so subtly, criticized for being ‘flawed’.
The second woman, age 61, shared that she’s no longer as responsive as she used to be and wanted to know if this was normal. She finds it takes taking longer to reach an orgasm.
There are a couple of things I want to share about these conversations. First of all, I feel honored when women reach out to me. with sexuality questions. I love engaging with women who are exploring their capacity for pleasure. When we ask questions, explore our bodies and learn how to accept our changing bodies we are creating more pleasurable intimate encounters. This is women taking ownership of their bodies and expressing a desire to engage in new ways with a lover.
My comment to the first woman was that this lover was making generalizations, possibly defensive if he measures his prowess by a woman’s orgasms. There was a hint in his comment of “There must be something wrong with you because all my past lovers were able to cum more quickly.” I’ve been given that line before.
Either he’s had some fabulously responsive women or they were faking it.
Sex is not a game of which one is like the other. We are all unique. Each kiss is different. The way we tilt our heads, whether we lead or follow, how we use tongues to probe or tease. Or use no tongues at all. Some people have sensitive nipples, some are completely non-erotic. Penises curve or don’t. Orgasms come hard and fast or light and delicately. Sometimes we have pleasure without orgasms.
Being a good lover requires us to be present to our partner, with a desire to learn their rhythms and responses. A good lover knows what occurs is unique to those two people. And part of the beauty of learning a new partner is discovering how they respond sexually. Do they like a soft touch? A firm hand? Slow, fast? How long does ______ take? Do they want me to do ____________?
All too often men feel their job is to “do” us. Real intimacy is a dance between two people.
The person who leads with “all my past lovers…” or “I know how to make you…..” is working from their own ego. They are not fully present to their sexual partner. And even if we have a lover who is in tune to us and to our bodies we have to remember that nothing is exactly like it was the previous time. Our bodies change, and we experience changes in our sexual response to a partner, often for no apparent reason. Changes that are dependent on stress, or mood, the weather, our to-do list and on and on.
So we come to sex, to intimate moments, with an open heart and all our attention on what’s happening in the moment. We sense our partner’s rising desire. We listen for changes in breath or position or other subtle cues that help us know when to move or when to pause. And when things don’t go as anticipated we accept, we shift, and we let go a little. And we embrace the pleasure we experience in that moment.
As our bodies age we will experience a similar but slightly different set of changes–more long-lasting changes. Ideally, we try to find a “work-around” as we experiment with new positions, techniques, toys or ways of relating to a partner.
If an orgasm takes longer and needs extra stimulation we figure out how to make that change. A willing partner is involved in that exploration because they have a desire to please us. And we to please them. It’s not necessarily a problem with one partner or the other but rather a challenge that can be examined and figured out. It can be an opportunity to expand one’s sexual practice.
What might help? Technique, toys, and conversation are all useful tools. Consider self-pleasuring as a way of reacquainting yourself with your changing body. If, as one of these women shared, your sexual response is changing self-pleasuring might allow you to pinpoint what’s different. It’s difficult to analyze a change when you’re in the middle of ‘the act’. Experimentation helps you figure out what you like all over again. Because you’re in touch with you–the you who shows up today, at age 61 or 70, or 32.
There are no simple answers when it comes to modifying sexual connections, mending relationships or adapting to our changing bodies. But a willingness to ask the questions, to talk to your partner and to try new things are important tools.
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Edited: On Monday, November 13 I will be offering an email/online course called Openings. You’ll work with me through daily emails and our own Facebook group as we explore how aging is personally affecting us as women. We’ll talk about expectations and attitudes and look at ways to create new openings in our lives. We’ll also look at relationships and sexuality.
Also published on Medium.