For men, sex means a lifetime of navigating age-specific perils, pitfalls and performance anxieties. In our 20s, we worry about size and premature ejaculation…in our 30s, about whether we’ll ever have sex again…in our 40s, about whether we can keep it up like we used to…and so on. Naturally, we tend to read any problem as a cosmic reflection of some personal failing because we can’t leave our egos out of anything, especially the bedroom. And no, thanks, we don’t want to talk about it.
But it’s your sex life, too. So how are you supposed to deal with your husband’s physical changes downstairs and mental craziness upstairs? Step one is awareness. Here, experts and regular guys explain what’s going on with your man at every stage and how to keep him (very) happy through the years.
Still armed with adolescent energy and high testosterone levels, men in their 20s often seem on a mission to have as much sex as humanly possible. And the institution of marriage — with all its possibilities for romance and spontaneity — lends itself perfectly to this quest. While your husband’s single pals may still be gathering sexual experience with lots of women, your husband is looking to do his exploring with one person — you. “It’s a time of proving oneself, and although there’s a lot of emphasis on the quantity of sex, there’s also a lot on the quality — he wants to feel that he’s good in bed, that he knows how to please you,” says Sharyn Hillyer, a sex therapist in Beverly Hills, California.
Good sex, defined by these guys as frequent, orgasmic, multipositional athletics, remains an absolute necessity. Mark, 24, estimates he has sex with his wife about once a day and admits that if the sex weren’t mechanically as good as it is, his relationship would be difficult to sustain. “I think sex is very important in maintaining intimacy,” he says. “If you’re not sexually compatible, sex will become a chore, and you’re not going to be as attracted to one another.”
For a wife trying to improve a sexual relationship with one of these guys, quantity is a good place to start. Nothing will endear you to a young husband more than being open to sex at any time of day or night: in the car, on the kitchen counter, even in one of those aptly named service elevators. “I’m pretty much always ready for it,” confesses Edward, 26. “The only thing I’m concerned about lately is making the experience last longer.
Making the experience last longer — that’s the downside, in a nutshell: What good are 17 1/2 orgasms a night, when each is over in 30 seconds flat? Premature ejaculation is the universal curse of young bucks, and it’s the source of much angst. “They get excited easily and don’t know how to identify the point of inevitability before ejaculation,” says Richard Cohn, Ph.D., director of the Siren Counseling Center and Sex Clinic in Los Angeles.
The problem, of course, is overstimulation. Remember, at this age everything (from underwear ads to magazine scent-strips) is a turn-on. “I can get an erection just sitting there thinking about sex,” says Jason, 27. “Sometimes a girl can walk by, and just the perfume gets me going.”
Part of that sensory overload is coming from you. If you want to improve the sexual experience for your hubby, make it easier for him to hold back. Limit your foreplay to light brushes over the genital area. Keep your ministrations brief — linger in one area too long with too much baby oil, and you risk bursting the pinata before the fiesta begins.
Another way to help him delay his big O: sex with you on top. It’s less directly stimulating, and hence easier for him to maintain for the long haul. Switching positions can also help him regroup. Just beware of doing anything dangerously erotic: Move slowly, and stop if he indicates you’ve brought him close to the edge. Another strategy: The first time of the night, set him off without requiring that he “wait for you.” Then, kick back and wait a half hour.
And what if you find your enthusiasm lagging behind his for whatever reason (say, if you’ve just had a baby and your body’s not back to normal yet, or you’re just too darn tired)? Because the sexual appetite of men in their 20s is more fast food than gourmet, you don’t have to feel pressured to gear up for hourlong sex every time the guy’s eyes light up. Believe me, you’ll make him just as happy with a quick manual or oral (oh please, oh please) servicing, particularly if you make it clear no reciprocation is required. You’ll be back to your novel before the plot gets cold, and he’ll be on cloud nine. This is the phase, after all, in which men say and mean things like, “Even when sex is bad, it’s good,” and “I never met an orgasm I didn’t like.”
For most men, the 30s begin a new era, with the focus turned increasingly toward career- and home-building, and away from perfecting those little bachelor-party-napkin hats. Personally, I leaped into my 30s with both feet: Between 29 and 31, I took an upwardly mobile job, bought a house in the suburbs with my wife and had a beautiful little girl. It’s a big change, and yet despite all our guy-to-guy jesting about settling down, the transition is rarely lethal. “It’s sort of a relief to settle in for the long haul,” suggests Michael Jolkovski, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at the Winter Hill Psychotherapy and Consultation Center in Falls Church, Virginia. “There’s a mellowing that occurs as the 20s wind down: Things that sounded grim and dull — like getting some ambition, building a relationship, thinking about kids — start to have their own kind of satisfaction.”
But working overtime and painting your fixer-upper house on weekends can be physically draining, and sex often gets dropped from the schedule. “It’s a lot less frequent, and you have to do it by appointment,” declares Robert, 39. “You’re too exhausted, or the kids are driving you nuts, or one of you has to work late and the other has to get up early. All the planets have to be aligned for one glorious moment if anything’s going to happen in bed. My wife and I have sex more or less every time Halley’s comet comes around.”
In this frenetic phase of a man’s life, carving out time for languorous eroticism is rarely high on the agenda (no offense), and sex takes on a more pragmatic function. “Very often, it’s used for stress relief,” says Hillyer, which is fine if your sexual rhythms are both ticking to the same clock. But what if you want sex more often than he does? Well, appointment sex — you and me in the sunroom at 8pm, BYOB — is an efficient way to work in some romance. The only catch: The busier he is, the less romantic another “appointment” will seem. (Plus, you might get bumped.) So don’t expect him to shift gears on a dime: If you jump right into romance he’s likely to feel pressured, maybe even guilty for neglecting your needs. Instead, find a nonsexual way to bridge the gulf between his workday and a relaxing evening of nookie. Massage is one strategy (not the naked hot-oil kind — a neck rub is fine). Vegging out to TV is another. Bottom line: Break down his stress, and he’ll be much more responsive and enthusiastic.
After all, given the level of preoccupation at this stage of a man’s life, sex can serve as a powerful way to reconnect with his wife, a quick reassurance that the relationship is still strong despite the slipshod maintenance. “We’d get so we were barely speaking to one another,” says Alan, 35. “Then we’d have this wild, grunting gorilla sex, and we could suddenly laugh about it all. We’d say, God, that was fantastic — why don’t we make this more of a priority?”
But even for schedule-conscious guys, quickies alone won’t do it. What men in this stage desperately need is a total escape from both work and the pressures of home, and a wild night of passion can do the trick like nothing else. So once a month or so, dust off the lingerie and fire up the candles. “This is a good time for a woman to be wild and crazy,” says Hillyer. “A woman needs to remind her man that she’s more than a mom and a wife, that she’s a woman, too.”
But don’t stop with candles and a babysitter. Try new positions, props and attitude, even if you were strictly man-on-top vanilla before. Odds are he’ll be thrilled, since breaking old habits helps take this event out of the realm of the ordinary and gives your husband more of a fantasy experience. Also, men harbor a great nostalgic ache for their wild bachelor youths, and a little sexual variation on your part can partially stimulate that unfettered single state he’s convinced himself he remembers.
The upside to his likely preoccupation is that he may not be so quick on the trigger, which will free you to experiment with expanding your foreplay to include whole-body involvement. Remember, the key is to break him out of his work daydream, so sink him in the fantasy of the experience with subtle perfume, deep kisses, roaming hands.
You should also seize this opportunity to really define yourself as an erotic being: Slip into some sexy lingerie, turn down the lights, pour him a glass of wine, and…show him what’s on your mind. “Women get into that mind-set of ‘he should love me no matter what,’ but that doesn’t mean he’s going to be turned on,” says Hillyer. To make sure you continue to hit all his buttons, once in a while you’ve got to be a little obvious.
No moment is as starkly defined for men as “Turning 40.” That birthday instantly, magically transforms the most strapping young man into a toothless, decrepit old-timer — in his mind. “There’s not a major medical difference between men in their 30s and men in their 40s, but psychologically there’s a big difference,” reports Jaime G. Corvalan, M.D., a sexologist in Pasadena, California. “For the first time they realize they’re mortal: They say, ‘I’m 40, and I’m going to die.'”
Suddenly, they take their physical condition very seriously, paying renewed attention to diet and exercise. Aging is a dismal enough prospect, but when it starts to affect sexuality, it becomes downright tragic. Men can feel intensely emasculated when problems — prostate trouble, lack of flexibility — start cropping up. “I’ve gained some weight and that definitely affects what I can do,” says Bill, 44. “Certain positions actually hurt a little.”
It’s tough on a man’s pride, to say the least, and all this pressure and disappointment can culminate in that great bane of the 40-something man: the midlife crisis. “He starts to recognize he doesn’t have the same physical energy and can’t get an erection as often or sustain it as well — in other words, he can’t function as an 18-year-old anymore,” says clinical psychologist Karen Shanor, Ph.D., author of The Shanor Study: The Sexual Sensitivity of the American Male. “He may ask himself, ‘What do I want to be sure to do while I can still do it?'” And that can mean a self-reassuring romp in the hay with the office temp.
But the news isn’t all bad. “Men often become better lovers in their 40s, because there’s more concern about the quality rather than about ‘getting it’ every night,” says Hillyer. If that pure, uncut stallion stamina is starting to wane as he heads up and over the hill, at least it’s being replaced by maturity and experience, laying the groundwork for a potential bonanza for you. But for you to take advantage of your husband’s well-aged, finely honed skills, it’s important to start subtly adapting your foreplay to accommodate his changing physicality. “He’s going to need a little more stimulation and more time to produce an erection,” explains Dr. Cohn. Your husband may be inordinately interested in straightforward, athletic man-on-top sex, since part of the point of sex at this phase is to prove he can still do it. So indulge him, listen patiently to his Tarzan roar and compliment his stamina afterward. (It’s a guy thing.)
A big bonus for you is that the 40-something man is into the mutual act of sex more than ever now. While he may have been a good lover and attentive before, this is often the first phase in a man’s life where he draws real, significant pleasure just from ringing your bell. Says Hillyer: “This is the time for a woman to really hold out for quality, for sex to be an event.”
You might do well, too, at this point to coax your husband beyond the traditional male definition of sex as performance art. Intercourse, for example, no longer has to be the main course; mutual masturbation or oral sex are good substitutes on occasion. Even frequency, once the benchmark of male potency, is now negotiable. “When I was 30, I could get off four or five times a night,” says Richard, 44. “There’s no way I could do that now. But the orgasms are longer, more powerful and more satisfying, so I don’t desire them as often.”
Bottom line: While sex in a man’s earlier years can be gratifying on a purely physical level, now enjoyment depends on love, commitment and the intimacy that grows from years of exclusive experience.