Is sex truly better for older couples?
A survey of 2,930 men and women 45 and older commissioned by the AARP, The American Association of Retired Persons, shows that sexuality remains an essential element in older couples' lives. Approximately 49% of those with a regular partner engage in sex once a week or more. Most of these adults say "a satisfying sexual relationship is important to their quality of life." Oops! I thought sex was just for young couples …
Contrary to popular opinion, current research agrees with these older men and women that regular sexual activity improves their lives. In fact, when a young monogamous couple enjoys a loving sexual relationship, their sex life continues to get better as they age. Dr. Joe E. McIlhaney Jr. and Dr. Freda McKissic Bush validate what God has patiently taught for over 3,000 years in Proverbs 5:15-20—the best lovers are the older husband and wife—not the young hot-hormonal bed partners.
And what a wonderful lifelong sexual journey it is of growth and bonding from newlyweds to senior soul mates. The passionate wonder of youth gets better over time. Truly, God is great in building in three powerful hormones to bless his people with a lifetime of chandelier-hanging sex!
The doctors explain in their book Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex Is Affecting Our Children how this bonding phenomenon occurs over decades in each other's arms. Indeed, brain scans and new developments in neuroscience are providing greater understanding of the role of hormones released during sex. In their chapter "Meet the Brain," the doctors introduce the hormones.
1. Dopamine Hooks People on Sex
The first hormone Dr. McIlhaney and Dr. Bush explore is dopamine, a brain chemical that affects a person's enjoyment of many activities:
- "Dopamine makes us feel good because of the intense energy, exhilaration, and focused attention it produces when we do something important or stimulating. It makes us feel the need or desire to repeat pleasurable, exciting, and rewarding acts."
However, the hormone dopamine doesn't have a conscience or a sense of right or wrong. It doesn't care if the activity is good or bad. It doesn't care if it's casual sex or committed lovemaking:
- "Dopamine is values-neutral. This important point must be stressed. Dopamine will reward for healthy and life-enhancing excitement, but it will also send the reward signal for exhilarating but unhealthy and destructive behavior...
- Examples of excitement that dopamine rewards can include the use of nonprescription drugs, nonmarital sexual involvement, excessive drinking, dangerous thrill-seeking, and so on. The good 'high' feeling these behaviors can produce can cause an adolescent (and also an adult) to want to seek more of that good feeling."
As might be expected, sexual activity releases the hormone dopamine into a person's system to give them a rush, regardless of the circumstances or with whom the tryst occurs:
- "Sex is one of the strongest generators of the dopamine reward. For this reason, young people particularly are vulnerable to falling into a cycle of dopamine reward for unwise sexual behavior—they can get hooked on it."
Contrary to the negative affect of dopamine on unmarried youths, the doctors conclude with the benefit of a hormonal rush for married couples:
- "But the beneficial effect of dopamine for the married couple is that it 'addicts' them to sex with each other."
2. Oxytocin Regulates a Woman's Sexual Bonding
The primary sexual hormone for women is oxytocin:
- "Another neurochemical that is critically important to healthy sex and bonding is oxytocin. While it is present in both genders, it is primarily active in females ...
- When two people touch each other in a warm, meaningful, and intimate way, oxytocin is released into the woman's brain. The oxytocin then does two things: increases a woman's desire for more touch and causes bonding of the woman to the man she has been spending time in physical contact with.
- This desire for more touch and the bonding that develops between a man and a woman often lead to the most intimate of physical contact, sexual intercourse. With sexual intercourse and orgasm, the woman's brain is flooded with oxytocin, causing her to desire this same kind of contact again and again with this man she has bonded to, producing often stronger bonding."
Dr. McIlhaney and Dr. Bush explain the significance for older couples:
- "But there is more. The oxytocin bonding that takes place in the normal male-female relationship often results in long-term connectedness. For example, in America, when a marriage is intact, it is rare for a woman to have sexual intercourse with anyone except her husband."
Notice the quality of the bonding a female experiences after being sexually active with a man:
- "The important thing to recognize is that the desire to connect is not just an emotional feeling. Bonding is real and almost like the adhesive effect of glue—a powerful connection that cannot be undone without great emotional pain. Real brain chemicals act on real brain cells, causing those brain cells to bind individuals together."
Interestingly, the doctors' description of oxytocin-bonding sounds similar to God's declaration after he created Adam and Eve that a man would leave his parents and cleave to his wife (Genesis 2:22-24). "Cleave" means "glue together, cement, join or fasten firmly together, join oneself to, cleave to, give oneself steadfastly to, labor for." Now, we know God doesn't use superglue on a husband and wife—he uses oxytocin, which holds better than even 'The Original Super Glue'.
3. Vasopressin Controls a Man's Sexual Bonding
God doesn't overlook men when he passes out bonding hormones during lovemaking. Dr. McIlhaney and Dr. Bush continue:
- "Women are not the only ones who bond during intimate physical contact. The neurochemical responsible for the male brain response and synaptic change is called vasopressin. It plays a role in many body functions such as blood pressure regulation and, through its influence on kidney function, fluid regulation in the body. Vasopressin seems to have two primary functions related to relationships—bonding of the man to his mate and attachment to his offspring ...
- Due to the remarkable structural similarity between oxytocin and vasopressin, it should come as no surprise that these two neurochemicals share similar activity. Often referred to as the 'monogamy molecule,' vasopressin seems to be the primary cause of men attaching to women with whom they have close and intimate physical contact."
Diabetes and other medical problems can hamper a man's ability to express physical love to his wife. Certain drugs play havoc with a loving man's desires. Yet even in these instances, a couple can share love through hugging, cuddling, and fondling each other. Even though it isn't as intense a form of lovemaking as sexual intercourse, the doctors say intimate touching still releases hormones of pleasure and bonding.
Hormones Cement Male and Female Bonds Over a Lifetime
In bonding, Dr. McIlhaney and Dr. Bush explain the similarities between the male and female hormones when couples engage in sexual activity with multiple partners:
- "Just like dopamine [pleasure hormone] and oxytocin [primarily female hormone], vasopressin [primarily male hormone] is values-neutral. If a male enters into a physical relationship with a female unwisely, he could bond to her. This bonding could lead to a long-term relationship that is unhealthy and destructive because it was an unwise relationship to start with, yet the bonding keeps the couple together, even if the man is being abused by the woman ...
- As with dopamine and oxytocin, vasopressin has a powerful impact on human behavior. Yet most people are totally unaware of it. Men may question why they keep going back to a woman who treats them poorly or may wonder why they never seem able to feel, deep inside, a commitment to a woman after having sex partner after sex partner. Sadly, they simply do not know that their brains are flooded with vasopressin during sexual intercourse and that this neurochemical produces a partial bond with every woman they have sex with. They do not realize that this pattern of having sex with one woman and then breaking up and then having sex with another woman limits them to experience only one form of brain activity common to humans involved sexually—the dopamine rush of sex."
Both men and women jeopardize developing a long-term satisfying sexual relationship when they engage in casual sex. The doctors examine what happens to the hormones:
- "They [men and women] risk damaging a vital, innate ability to develop the long-term emotional attachment that results from sex with the same person over and over. This transition can be seen in the brain studies of individuals who have been involved with each other for a period of months."
Concluding the section on the bonding similarities between oxytocin and vasopressin, the doctors state: "Their [men's and women's] inability to bond after multiple liaisons is almost like tape that loses its stickiness after being applied and removed multiple times."
If a couple regularly expresses sexual love to each other, their emotional bond grows stronger over the years. As they age, the affection their bodies speak to each other deepens. The hot, impatient hormones of youth give way to the mellow sweetness of a lifetime of loving.
The AARP Sexuality Report says, "Respondents with a regular sexual partner are more satisfied with their sex life, and generally have a better outlook on life." This becomes more pronounced as the couple advances in age and partakes of the three sexual hormones. "Men ages 70 and older and women ages 60 and older tend to have a more optimistic outlook on their present situation than younger respondents."
In addition to limitations from poor health, the number one reason for sexual dissatisfaction from the older participants is a lack of initiative from their partner when it comes to having sex. My experience of over 40 years shows that is also the number one reason for marital unhappiness of both men and women of all ages.
Truly, God demonstrates his love for us by building in three powerful hormones to cement our affections together when we practice sexual love on a regular basis. Such a God deserves to be served with all our might—yes, even in bed!
You may find Patsy's video "Is the Brain The Most Important Sexual Organ?" helpful. This article is taken from Patsy Rae Dawson's new book The Song of Solomon Love Triangle: God's Soulmating & Lovemaking Guide to Prepare You for a Lifetime of Passionate Sex to be released around Valentine’s Day 2015.
Readers describe Patsy Rae Dawson as the most outspoken Christian woman on sex, referring to her frankness and comfort talking about sex. Her unique ability to unlock the scriptures and challenge traditional views makes her a popular speaker and writer. Check out Patsy's latest book, The Song of Solomon Love Triangle, God's Soulmating & Lovemaking Guide to Prepare You for a Lifetime of Passionate Sex. She's also the author of God’s People Make the Best Lovers and God’s People Appreciate Marriage (which includes a verse-by-verse study of the Song of Solomon).
She has CDs on The Song of Solomon: God's Sex Education for Ages 11 to 99 and Challenges in Marriage: What to Do When Sin Inhibits Love. Sign up for her newsletter called Embarrass the Alligator where Patsy talks about the good, the bad, and the ugly of marriage so we can enjoy a literal taste of heaven. PatsyRaeDawson.com and EmbarrasstheAlligator.com.
AARP. "Modern Maturity Sexuality Survey. Aug. 1999.
AARP. "Sexuality at Midlife and Beyond: 2004 Update of Attitudes and Behaviors." May 2005.
McIlhaney Jr., Joe E. and Freda McKissic Bush. Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex Is Affecting Our Children. 2008.