Professor Nathan Vytialingam Advisor, Malaysian Healthy Ageing Society (MHAS)
As human beings, we welcome and even crave closeness with other people, especially that special someone we are blessed to spend our lives with. As we grow older, this desire to be close to our partner often intensifies, and the presence of children, in-laws and, later, grandchildren often only reinforces the love we feel for that special person.
We catch up with Professor Nathan Vytialingam, an advisor for the Malaysian Healthy Ageing Society (MHAS), after he gave a talk on the subject at the Empowering the Elderly seminar earlier this May. He had many enlightening things to share on how the elderly can still enjoy a fulfilling life of love and passion in their golden years.
Tip #1: Love ourselves first, before we love other people.
Normal ageing can bring about physical changes that affect our perception about ourselves. Where there was once a crowning glory of hair is now a bald pate, for example. Some of us may feel that we are no longer as attractive as before when wrinkles begin to show and our body no longer feels as youthful as in the past.
Prof Vytialingam assured us that, often, our perception that we are no longer attractive is all in our mind. After all, we are still the same people that our partner fell in love with!
However, this lack of self-esteem can affect our love life. It is, therefore, important to find ways to boost our self-esteem. Try these:
- Find joy in being older and wiser. Accept that we are more emotionally prepared to explore new hobbies, seek new life experiences and handle difficult decisions. Our life experiences have shaped and strengthened our relationship with our partner, and it has never been better.
- Accept that physical changes are an inevitable part of ageing. Focus instead on how we can still look and feel good with various fashion, hairstyles, etc.
- Participate in organisations or groups consisting of other people our age, either in real life and/or online. Studies found that social interactions can help boost our confidence and make us realise that there is still much in life for us to look forward to and enjoy.
- If we still find it hard to feel confident about our looks, talk to a counsellor. The very act of confiding our insecurities will lift a great weight off our shoulders, and the counsellor will have useful insight on how to further boost our confidence in our appearance and attractiveness.
Tip #2: Seek medical attention when problems arise.
The physical changes that come with ageing can affect our ability to perform intimate acts. Common examples of such changes are erectile dysfunction, which prevents sexual intercourse from taking place, and changes in the vagina, which can make sexual intercourse uncomfortable or even painful.
Prof Vytialingam said that many couples facing these issues usually seek traditional remedies when there is little evidence to demonstrate that these remedies work. Actually, there are already solutions and treatments that can help address these problems, available either by prescription or at the pharmacy – all couples facing such issues need to do is to seek advice from a doctor.
Of course, not every doctor feels comfortable about addressing an elderly couple’s sexual problems, especially if they are young or shy. If we encounter such a doctor, don’t let that discourage us. “We can always visit another doctor,” suggested Prof Vytialingam, “until we find one that we are comfortable with.”
- Erectile dysfunction. While there are pills to allow men to attain an erection for a sexual encounter, Prof Vytialingam pointed out that these pills do not address the root of the problem – no pun intended. “Erectile dysfunction can be caused by psychological factors, such as stress and lack of self-esteem, as well as underlying medical problems, such as diabetes,” he explained. Therefore, it is advisable to consult a doctor first for a more thorough medical check-up.
- Vaginal changes. As a woman ages, the vagina may experience changes such as thinning of the walls and a reduced amount of lubrication, which can affect her ability to enjoy sexual intercourse. While lubricants may be helpful in this case, the issues can also be due to hidden underlying medical reasons that may need to be addressed. Therefore, it is advisable to see a doctor to look into these problems.
- Physical disabilities. Sometimes, we may experience problems such as weakened bones that make it hard to have sexual intercourse in our ‘usual’ ways. In such instances, we can consult a doctor or a therapist for alternative appropriate and safe positions that we can adopt during our intimate moments.
Tip #3: Intimacy is not solely about achieving orgasm.
This may seem like a “What? No way!” kind of statement to some of us, but it is true. Prof Vytialingam assured us that there is more to intimacy than just the sex act. It encompasses cuddling, fondling, kissing and other forms of physical contact that allows us to feel close to and be loved by the other person. In fact, intimacy also includes an emotional component, involving feelings such as love, respect and trust.
Therefore, don’t get frustrated or feel like a failure if we cannot perform like we used to when we were young. Focus on other ways we can show our love to our partners, such as:
- Touch our partner. Don’t just touch when we want to have sex – make it a habit to kiss, hug, stroke our partner’s cheek and more when the mood hits us.
- Hold hands. This simple gesture can be one of the most effective ways to strengthen the intimacy in our relationship, so hold our partner’s hand on every step we take together.
- Do something together. Whether it is a romantic date or just cuddling while watching our favourite TV shows, doing something together creates a magical moment shared between just the two of us, moments that only strengthen our feeling of intimacy.
- Talk. This is very important, and yet, many of us overlook this act of intimacy. Remember how, after a hard day at work, we feel invigorated again when our partner asks us with a smile, “How was your day, dear?” So, let’s talk to our partner more often, and more importantly, make it clear that we listen to and care about what they want to tell us.
And this leads us to the next tip …
Tip #4: Make time for the two of us.
“Many of us in their golden years spend less time with one another, when it should be the other way around,” said Prof Vytialingam. “We are very busy being parents, tending still to the needs of our grown-up kids, and being grandparents, taking care of the grandchildren.”
We should, instead, allocate some ‘just the two of us’ time to relax, rekindle the magic in our relationship and just have fun. “Tell our children that we can’t take care of the grandchildren this weekend, because we want some time for ourselves,” he suggested.
Some of us may feel guilty for ‘abandoning’ our children or grandchildren, but we should understand that, as much as we love our children and grandchildren, we should also love ourselves as well. So, let’s tuck the guilt away and make plans for a romantic date with our partner!
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