Sexual Wisdom

We talk a lot on this blog and podcast about the harm of messages that promote sex negativity--abstinence models of sexual education, the shame surrounding language such as "purity", discriminatory legislation, such as unequal access to sexual contraceptives, actual traumatic experiences.

I (Jeremiah Gibson) am curious how you would answer the following question: Who are your sexual heroes? Who are people that discussed/practiced sexuality with you in safe, affirming ways? Who encouraged you to learn about and own your physical needs? Who are people that you learned about your physical needs with? Are there additional ways that someone might become a sexual hero?

Three sex researchers--Miriam Forbes, Nicholas Eaton, and Robert Krueger--recently published the article "Sexual Quality of Life and Aging: A Prospective Study of a Nationally Representative Sample" in February's Journal of Sex Research. The researchers used data from the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) study, which asked more than 6200 folks to assess their sexual quality of life over a 20-year span. Some people had their first interviews in their twenties and last interviews in their 40s, while others had their first interviews at age 60 and last interview at age 80. In this specific study, Forbes, Eaton, and Krueger were looking to see how aging, including cohort effects (what a specific generation thought about sex, for instance), effected quality of sex.

The researchers discovered what we might assume about sexuality and aging; specifically, that a ten-year increase in age resulted in a 5% decrease of sexual quality of life. Which, to some extent, makes sense when you consider societal ageism around sexuality, as well as the link between aging and increased likelihood of physical disability, erectile dysfunction, and vaginal dryness.

In fact, Forbes, Eaton, and Krueger noted that decline in sexual quality of life had more to do with socioeconomic features, such as experience of racial/sexual discrimination, deteriorating physical health, depression, impact of religiosity, lower levels of education, than it did with age.

They noted that while frequency of sex and perceived sexual competence became less strongly associated with sexual quality of life over time, the intentionality of sexual efforts, including the forethought and conversations about sexuality, became more important (particularly for women).

Forbes, Eaton, and Krueger write, "Given that wisdom is the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment, we could summarize these age-related findings as the development of sexual wisdom" (p. 145). They identify several characteristics of sexually wise people and couples:

  1. Sexually wise people know how to ask about their partner's sexual preferences, likes, and dislikes. They understand their partner's go-to ideal sexual experiences and are aware that their partner may want to explore new sexual interactions, and know how to oscillate between these two decision-making processes.

  2. Sexually wise people talk about sex. They find eroticism in the planning of sex, a process that may take several days. Women specifically seemed to find eroticism in talking about sex with their partners.

  3. Sexually wise people develop a sense of sexual competence by investing in their physical health and the process of learning about their bodies sexually. Age, number of partners, and quality of erection/orgasm don't seem to impact perceived sexual competency.

  4. Sexually wise people advocate for the sexual pleasure of both partners, and are intentional in taking their time to find positive sexuality.

Our couples therapists would love to help you incorporate sexual wisdom into your relationship, regardless of whether you're just learning about your partner's bodies, or have been continuously learning about each other's bodies for decades. Give us a call at 617-750-0183, or check out our Book Online section to schedule an appointment online.