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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships - 8


It could be you.... 

Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor for Relate and in private practice, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet in later life.

For reasons of confidentiality Maggi never writes about a particular person's problems unless you have sent one in to be answered, but all her examples are based on problems raised by clients, family and friends over the years.  

You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.


Sex in a long-term relationship 

Maggi Stamp, laterlife's counsellor on human relationships, has a story of a marriage that didn't make it..

Bill and Marion were in a really bad way when they sought counselling. In their sixties, they had a long marriage, adult children and grandchildren. Bill worked very hard building up a very good business whilst Marion had been a traditional wife and mother putting all her energies into successfully creating a comfortable and happy home.

Until recently they had never thought of infidelity threatening their way of life. They both hated Bill`s work travel and inevitable nights away from home. He only relaxed once back in his armchair surrounded by home comforts..

Then Bill met Anna. She was 29 years old, younger than their son. They met at a conference, and for Bill it was as if the clock had been turned back 25 years, plunging headlong into what he described as the biggest adventure of his life. He spent abandoned hours with Anna, weekends in country hotels or popping over to Paris on shopping sprees.

When I first saw Bill he described to me the difference meeting Anna had made to his life. He knew it was unlikely to last but was amazed that at this late stage in his life he was discovering sex for what seemed like the first time. Anna was young, energetic, vivacious and very at ease with their relationship. Her attitude to sex was a revelation to Bill, having accepted years back that he and Marion no longer had much appetite for or need of lovemaking in their marriage. He had just let it go and shut down his sexual desire. The effect of Anna entering his life was so powerful that he had thrown caution to the wind and as a result all that he had worked for was now being threatened.

When I saw Marion alone, she seemed stunned by the news and feared the consequences of Bill's affair on their family, friends, and on their relationship. She knew sex played a large part in Bill's affair. They had not had intercourse for 6 years. She didn't miss what she regarded as a duty to please her husband. He never took a great deal of time to please her when they made love anyway. They had been innocent and ignorant when they married, and she understood how this affair must be affecting Bill now.    

I worked with this couple for some time before they went their separate ways. What I hope they took away with them was a deeper understanding of what had happened to their relationship over the years. As they grew older, their needs had changed. It was a tragedy for them that it was too late to do anything to save their marriage.

What can we learn from this?

  • There is no upper age limit on sex. It is a vital part of any long relationship and an important way of demonstrating affection, love, reassurance and tenderness well into later life.

  • What changes is the body. It develops aches and pains, energy levels drop and we tire more quickly.  Our hormones ­ male and female ­ change their balance as fertility falls. It is not surprising that given the ageing process we sometimes feel less attractive and as a result assume our partner will not want us sexually. We sometimes protect ourselves by shutting down sexual feelings.

  • Making love in later life, as at any other time doesn`t always need full intercourse. Just as much pleasure can be derived from caressing, holding and stroking. Orgasm is still achievable - even for the first time for some women who have spent their lives never telling and with a man who has never asked - but is not essential every time.

  • It is important to discuss fears and worries about sex with your partner, but equally important to tell each other what pleases you most, and what you would like to try. It may be that you have never talked in this way and have lived for many years not knowing for sure if you are giving your partner pleasure, just assuming their lack of comment is approval. You might be right but as with any assumption, check it out.

  • Tell them when they look good and continue to take care over your own hygiene and appearance.  Compliments show you care. 

  • Try one of the many different positions if you are worried by pain in your joints, some of which make it easier for specific difficulties. (See my Recommended Books)

  • Men and women can experience dyspareunia - pain on intercourse.  It may be due to fear of discomfort through dryness or tension. Dryness can be alleviated by trying some of the many creams, gels and lubricants - a delight to incorporate into love-making, especially when a partner is invited to apply it! Discomfort can often be eased by trying a different position. Check out pain with your doctor if change of position and lubrication don't work.

  • Lack of a firm erection and premature ejaculation can have many causes.  Viagra and other new products can help in many cases, and have revolutionised the way sex problems are treated. Check out with your GP.

  • Any of these and many other sexual problems can also be very effectively understood with the help of a relationship counsellor trained in working with sexual problems. Most Relate Centres have highly trained specialists used to working with adults of all ages.

Recommended Books

Litvinoff, Sarah -The Relate Guide To Sex in Loving Relationships
1992 - Vermillion

Kitzinger, Sheila - Woman`s Experience of Sex.
1985 - Penguin

Zilbergeld, Bernie - The New Male Sexuality,
1999 - Bantam

Please don't send any confidential information to

To view previous articles  - see the Relationship Counselling & Advice Index page  



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