What's on your menu?


Sexual Intelligence by Marty Klein Ph.D is a book I highly recommend to all Parkinson’s patients and their partners. This book offers a broader definition of “sex” as more of a menu of sexual activities, rather than one activity or goal. For anyone over the age of 50, there has to be a broader “menu” that allows for mobility issues, fatigue, and health issues of all kinds. The way to think about sex according to Klein, is by two standards, “How do I like it?” and “Does my partner enjoy this with me?” He writes, “In this vision of sex, nothing can go wrong because there is no “wrong” and no “right.” We just pick from a menu that is appropriate for us.

When we get caught up in particular outcomes (erection, lubrication, orgasm), then sex is something that has requirements. It can then be easy to feel disappointed in ourselves or our partner and make us not want to begin. Instead of stopping physical intimacy altogether, focusing on sexual enjoyment rather than sexual function is the way to enjoy our partners and remain intimate as we age.

8 Strategies that will help you focus less on performance,

and more on closeness and intimacy:

  1. Don’t start sex before you feel close – or ready.

    You don’t have to feel arousal or desire to begin sex, but you don’t want to start sex when you feel disconnected or cranky.

    Many people need what I call “bridging time” or a time of transition from tasks, technology, responsibilities to help them be ready to be naked and intimate with their partner. Glenda Corwin Ph.D defines “foreplay” as those activities that you do BEFORE a potential sexual encounter. Corwin says this time needs to involve 3 things:

    Sensual awareness…doing things that help you feel relaxed and feel good in your body.

    Erotic imagination…thinking about things that turn you on.

    Emotional connection…talking (in person or on the phone), emailing, or texting, so the two of you feel close.

    By taking some preparation time, you will come to the encounter ready to fully enjoy it.

  2. Clean up the initiation process

    For many couples, who initiates and how is the primary reason they don’t have sexual experiences together.  For many couples, just starting is challenging, especially if it’s been a while since they have been sexual.

    What I tell my clients is be clear about what you are “initiating.”  Just like you would be specific about many other suggestions, be clear about what you would like to do with your partner.  “I’d like to lay in bed naked with you and just hold you close, are you interested in that?” Or “I’d like to make out with you on the couch and take each other’s shirts off, does that sound good to you?” Or “I’d like to have sex with you, but I don’t think I want to try to orgasm, could we do that?”  And of course, there are always “counteroffers!”  Just like you might suggest going out for Mexican and the other person says, “How about Sushi instead?”  Counter offers create possibility and more options for closeness and connection.

  3. Make time

    Don’t shortchange sex. Take the time that’s necessary to have an experience that feels good for both of you. And if you don’t have time, then enjoy a few minutes of kissing or fondling and make time soon. Just like taking a flight involves more than just the flight time, the same is true about sex. The time required for sex involves clearing your mind and getting ready for it emotionally and physically.

  4. Focus Your focus

    Don’t focus on your sexual worries or aspects of your body you don’t like.  We can spoil any experience by focusing on what we are afraid of or don’t like, and that never leads to closeness or enjoyment.  Instead focus on what you do want during a sexual experience.  Focus on their face, the feel of their skin, how your skin feels when they touch you.  Enjoy the moment, and be fully present with your beloved.

  5. Express train or local train?

    “Sex isn’t an express train – you don’t get on and then have to go to the end without stopping” writes Marty Klein.  You can get on and get off where you want to.  You can start and see how you feel.  If you like what’s happening, you can continue.  If you don’t, you can change or stop.  If you get tired, you are allowed to rest or take a break.  If you get a cramp or something hurts, you can change what you’re doing.  You can get a drink, pause, add more lube.  Sexual intelligence is knowing that “beginning a sexual encounter isn’t a commitment to continue or “finish” it.  It’s a commitment to be friendly, to be open to what happens, and to communicate.” (See #6)

  6. Talk before, during and after sex about sex.

    This topic is whole blog unto itself.  But suffice it to say good communication creates better sexual experiences.

  7. Don’t get attached to a version of sex on a particular occasion

    …because things might not happen exactly the way you expect.  We all go in with preferences of what we would like to happen, but real sexual intelligence is being able to flex when an experience turns out different than we expected.  “Fortunately, there are more ways to enjoy sex than the exact one you fantasized about.

  8. Put orgasm in its place

    If you think orgasm is the best part of sex, then you are missing a lot.  “Sex offers us a lot, including the chance to be close to someone; to feel graceful, desired, and attractive; to discover and express ourselves; to feel special and known; to enjoy our bodies…”and to show up in ways that may be very different than we do in regular life. 

But the most important aspect of sex is having a broad definition of what that means for the two of you.   “Sex” may look different every time you choose to be sexual, and that’s okay.  Whatever is on the menu for the two of you that day is perfect.

Sheila Silver, MA, DHS, ACS has presented at the 4th World Parkinson Congress in Portland, Oregon and the 5th World Parkinson Congress in Kyoto, Japan. She is currently a clinical sexologist in private practice in Portland, Oregon, and speaks nationally and internationally on the topic of sexuality and intimacy.

Ideas and opinions expressed in this post reflect that of the authors solely. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of the World Parkinson Coalition®