What do you do when you’ve been together for more than 20 years, and the sex has dried up?
It’s a dilemma many people in their 50s experience. Waning drive, coupled with daily exhaustion, tear-jerking boredom, stress, and even general disinterest, can result in a lacklustre love life.
We decided to consult psychosexual therapist and author Jacqueline Hellyer, to ask how mature aged women and men can reinvigorate things in the bedroom.
Her answer wasn’t exactly what we expected. Actually, it blew our tiny little minds.
We've been thinking about sex all wrong, people. Actually, a lack of conventional "penis in vagina" sex isn't a huge issue as the world has led us to believe, Hellyer says.
"A big part of the problem, as I see it, is we have a very limited view of sex, and that view really only suits young people," the Great Sex After Kids author explained. "Many people see sex based on men’s masturbatory style, it's all focused on the penis - how hard it can be, how much it can ejaculate - when that's really quite limiting."
If couples are getting tired of the "adolescent masturbatory approach" to sex once they've been together for over two decades, Hellyer says she really isn't surprised.
"Our model of sex might be okay when you meet someone and it’s all terribly exciting, but it’s bloody boring. So when mature couples stop having that boring style of sex, they tend to attribute that to the ageing process, when really it's got not much to do with ageing at all, it's just bloody boring.
"We need to change our definition of what sex is. All of our problems point to the fact that the model is the problem, not the people."
Got that? It's time couples stop defining their relationship by the number of times they have genital sex every week. Because really, that's not an indication of how your relationship is tracking at all.
While conventional sex has a place, and is important, there's so much we're missing when we consider what "sex" really is, Hellyer says.
So, how should people aged 50 years and older rethink intimacy?
“Sex is so closely linked to our overall wellbeing," Hellyer says. "That old model of sex, where everything is about getting things done really quickly, is a bit like trying to be healthy, but eating fast food all the time.”
Instead, mature-aged couples should be showing intimacy in little ways towards their partner, everyday. It's a nourishing process Hellyer calls "keeping yourself simmering".
"A lot of this is about noticing your partner and showing that you really see them," Hellyer says. "It's about being flirty with each other, not in a porn kind of way, but in a nice way. It could be complimenting their body when they hop out of the shower, even if you know it better than the back of your own hand. It could be adding a cute emoji to the end of the text, or going on a long walk, having a chat and holding hands."
LISTEN: Osher Günsberg discusses spicing up your sex life on the Love Life podcast. (Post continues...)
According to Hellyer, reigniting your sexual bond with your partner shouldn't be lust-led like it may have been in the first year or two, but mind-led.
The biggest mistake women can make is forcing themselves to have boring sex with their partner, when they'd really prefer to be doing something else, the expert adds.
“It's honestly better to have no sex at all, than have bad penis in vagina sex, where it’s all about obligation.
"Men get sexual pleasure from seeing a woman’s sexual pleasure, that’s why they often prefer to watch porn, because they want to see a woman enjoying herself," Hellyer says. "If a woman isn't really interested, it's better to not have sex at all."
Other ways to cultivate a "safe and open" love life is to build habits of "flirtatious naughtiness", Hellyer suggests.
“Sex is like food, we all have different appetites and tastes. If porn titillates you and engages you as a pair, great, do it. But that's not everybody's taste.
"For example my partner and I have set up an erotic Pinterest board, where we share erotic imagery and photographs. We really prefer that."
Looking into tantra - something Hellyer practices and teaches - can also help longtime couples channel their sexual and spiritual energies.
But ultimately, no two couples are the same, and Hellyer's overriding message is that there's no "set" way to approach matters of sex, intimacy, or connection.
"It's more in the mind than the genitals. Reconnecting could include anything, there are so many different ways of accessing your eroticism."
To find out more about Jacqueline Hellyer, including her workshops, books and podcasts, visit her website here.
How do you and your partner "keep yourselves simmering"?