Turning 50 is like walking through a doorway into another world. Suddenly we notice our bodies, primarily because they are not functioning as effortlessly as they used to.
Welcome to the maintenance years. So many things we used to do without effort or thought now require both. What we used to take for granted, we don’t any more. The best part about being our age is no longer wasting our time on things that aren’t very important to us. Now the game is maintaining our ability to do the things that do matter.
In my practice, I see so many women who are struggling to maintain their bodies, to age gracefully even as they are fighting to keep their good health: Women fighting cancers, auto-immune diseases, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure. Or perhaps their partners are fighting these illnesses. The fight requires treatments that are known libido-killers. Treatments that sap our strength, surgeries and therapies that leave us in pain. When this happens, our sex lives can take a back seat pretty quickly.
Without meaning to, without even realizing it, illness can leave couples growing physically distant just when they need physical affection more than ever.
The best cure I know for this situation is talking. Maybe you’ve never openly discussed it. Maybe it embarrasses you. But try to move past your embarrassment, because this is an important topic. To be at our healthiest, humans do need emotional support. Physical affection helps sick people get well and caregivers remain committed. If you need help broaching the subject, your clergy, a good couples counselor or sex therapist can help you comfortably move through that conversation.
One thing I like couples to consider when facing a debilitating illness: Consider expanding your notion of sexual contact well beyond intercourse or orgasm. Holding, snuggling, looking into one anothers’ eyes, kissing, fondling. All of these can do wonders for both of you, elevating your mood, keeping the ties strong, making a sick person feel like getting well!
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten.