The intimacy created by bonding behaviors can lead to a fulfilling sex life after menopause and beyond. We humans are attachment-forming creatures.
In nearly all of our cultures, we aspire to mate for life. Our social structures develop to support that goal and the goal of forming strong bonds with our children, our extended families, our closest friends.
Building a bond with another human is not actually all that difficult. It’s more of a physical than a mental exercise, it turns out. And so, maintaining a strong physical bond throughout your married life can be accomplished by engaging in physical exercises that keep you close and bathe your respective brains in a wash of lovely neuro-chemicals that encourage you to maintain this most important human connection.
Marnia Robinson writes about the effect of evolutionary biology on lovers in Cupid's Poisoned Arrow: From Habit to Harmony in Sexual Relationships.
She and her husband make connections between psychological researchers’ understanding of human pair bonding and the teachings in ancient sacred-sex texts. The book is fascinating for a number of reasons, particularly, we think, as a kind of how-to manual for older lovers.
One of the most useful chapters of the book discusses bonding behaviors, or “attachment cues,” that encourage the release of oxytocin and other neurochemicals that help to dispel defensiveness, and make bonding not only possible, but effortless. These signals include affectionate touch, feeding, caregiving, grooming, murmuring, and lots of loving eye contact—all the small, selfless acts of affection you may remember from your earliest romantic days.
These bonding behaviors, Robinson argues, can sustain romantic bonds indefinitely. Here is her list of sample behaviors:
- smiling, with eye contact
- skin-to-skin contact
- providing a service or treat without being asked
- giving unsolicited approval, via smiles or compliments
- gazing into each other’s eyes
- listening intently, and restating what you hear
- forgiving or overlooking an error or thoughtless remark, past or present
- preparing your partner something to eat
- synchronized breathing
- kissing with lips and tongues
- cradling, or gently rocking, your partner’s head and torso (works well on a couch, or pillows)
- holding, or spooning, each other in stillness
- wordless sounds of contentment and pleasure
- stroking with intent to comfort
- massaging with intent to comfort, especially feet, shoulders and head
- hugging with intent to comfort
- lying with your ear over your partner’s heart and listening to the heart beat
- touching and sucking of nipples/breasts
- gently placing your palm over your lover’s genitals with intent to comfort rather than arouse
- making time together at bedtime a priority
- gentle intercourse
Do see Robinson's book for a fascinating discussion and description of “gentle intercourse.”
Robinson is careful to point out that these behaviors are not the same as foreplay, which is goal-oriented to build tension toward climax. Bonding behaviors, on the other hand, are oriented toward the goal of mutual relaxation, a feeling of safety and release of tension.