Sam Whittle

Sex & Relationships: Q&A with Venus Envy’s Sam Whittle

If you think sex stores don’t cater to Gen-X and Boomers, think again! Ottawa-based sex educator and Venus Envy store owner, Sam Whittle, spoke to me about how her customers are embracing their sexuality later in life.

Many people fear aging won’t benefit their sex life. Is this true?

The biggest misconception is that after people hit a certain age, they no longer have sex or no longer want to have sex. One of the most exciting things is when folks who are in their 50s, 60s and 70s come into our store to tell us about the new things that they’re exploring. It can be tempting to get stuck in a place of feeling broken or feeling like you can’t have sex anymore. And that’s definitely not true. All kinds of bodies can have sex.

Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Ian MacKenzie.

What brings the 45+ customer into Venus Envy?

Everyone’s different. But sometimes people are divorcing and starting to date again, or they’ve lost a partner. They’re looking for an opportunity to explore. Often people are using sex toys for the first time. One really sweet thing that happens every now and then is an adult daughter will bring her mom into the store to buy a vibrator because her partner has passed away. The daughter will say: “You know, this is a part of you that’s not dead just because your partner’s dead.”

How can older couples keep the spark alive?

When you’ve been with someone for a long time, you can get into a script. You know what someone likes and that can get more routine and less sexy. Changing things up can be helpful, like erotic talk. So, erotic talk might be texting a partner to say, “I’m really excited for our date tonight. I bought this new lube and I think it’s going to make things even hotter.” The nice thing about erotic talk is that that you can make the planning a sexual part of foreplay.

What happens when people feel bad about scheduling is that they don’t have sex at all. So, wouldn’t it be better to schedule sex?

Any other tips for long-term couples?

There are all kinds of ideas about what hot sex should look like that often get in the way of actually having great hot sex. We have this notion that scheduling sex is not hot. But then it’s pretty rare for most people to want to have sex at the same time, especially those in long term relationships where the intense passion may not be as strong, or there are varied energy levels. What happens when people feel bad about scheduling is that they don’t have sex at all. So wouldn’t it be better to schedule sex?

Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Nannydaddy.

It’s not uncommon for older men to experience erectile dysfunction. What options do they have?

One possibility is a penis pump. It is not going to make anyone permanently bigger, which is the way they’re often marketed. But they can help a man get an erection because they increase blood flow. Constriction rings or cock rings can also help for blood flow. And, if it’s just not working, be willing to think about sex in other ways outside of vaginal penetration. There are so many other ways to have sex.

What are good products for older women?

Many come in for lube because of vaginal dryness. Vaginal pH changes through menopause so a lube that worked for someone before might not be as good anymore. There’s a big variety. Some ingredients to watch out for though are sugar and glycerin because they can cause yeast and bacterial infections.

I also recommend a vibrator for anyone with a vagina. As we age, blood flow decreases in general, and estrogen also decreases. This means the vaginal walls can start thinning and lose elasticity. This causes discomfort. Vibrators increase blood flow. Plus they feel good.

More manufacturers of sex products are catering to older customers. What questions should customers be asking?

Of course, like in anything, some companies have learned that there’s money to be made in marketing to an older demographic. But there are no regulations on sex toys. I would encourage people to ask about the reputation of the company and the materials in their products.

People are shy to ask questions. But staff are used to answering all kinds of questions. The advantage of going into a store is that customers can ask for information about how to use a product. I have used a model of a vulva to demonstrate the many different ways to use a vibrator.

What’s a must read for exploring our sexuality?

Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski. She talks about everyone having brakes and accelerators – things that turn you on and things that turn you off. Like in a car, if the brakes are all the way down, no matter how much you rev the accelerator you’re not going anywhere. The common advice around sex is buy new lingerie or buy a new sex toy. These are all great, but if your brake is all the way down, none of that will make a difference. Sometimes the sexiest thing you can do is to decrease your stress levels. The things that affect pleasure in all areas of life can have an impact on our sex life, too.

“Sex & Relationships” is a new column by Sue Nador. 

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Sue Nador
Sue Nador is an Ottawa-based freelance writer. She is a 2020 candidate for the MFA in Creative Non-fiction at the University of King’s College and is writing a book about reinventing relationships in mid-life. Sue writes for various publications including Corporate Knights, This Magazine, and Via Rail. She has a loyal following on her blog, The Relationship Deal. She and her husband have two grown sons and a golden doodle they spoil rotten in their empty nest.