The desire for sex is an integral part of being human. No matter your age, we all seem to want and need to be close to others. So the desire for intimacy is timeless.
As we grow older, many of us also want to continue an active, satisfying sex life. But getting older can bring new sexual challenges — as well as new pleasures. During the last two decades, several studies have left little doubt that seniors have sex well into their 60s, 70s, and beyond. But what these studies don’t always show is what senior sex is like — including its pleasures and problems. However, the aging process may cause some physiological changes that may be difficult for some seniors to handle.
Sexual health is important at any age. Sexual feelings don’t disappear as you age. And while sex may not be the same as it was in your 20s, it can still be as fulfilling as ever. Discover which aspects of sexual health are likely to change as you age — and how you and your partner can adapt.
The Aging Process
Normal aging brings physical changes in both men and women. These changes sometimes affect one’s ability to have and enjoy sex with another person. Some women enjoy sex more as they grow older. After menopause or a hysterectomy, they may no longer fear an unwanted pregnancy. They may feel freer to enjoy sex.
Some women do not think things like gray hair and wrinkles make them less attractive to their sexual partner. But if a woman believes that looking young or being able to give birth makes her more feminine, she may begin to worry about how desirable she is no matter what her age is. That might make sex less enjoyable for her.
A woman may notice changes in her vagina. As she ages, her vagina shortens and narrows. The walls become thinner and also a little stiffer. These changes do not mean she can’t enjoy having sex. But it may mean she will also have less vaginal lubrication. This could affect sexual pleasure.
Testosterone plays a critical role in a man’s sexual experience. Testosterone levels peak in the late teens and then gradually decline. Most men notice a difference in their sexual response by age 60 to 65. As men get older, impotence or erectile dysfunction, becomes more common. Impotence is the loss of ability to have and keep an erection hard enough for sexual intercourse. The penis may take longer to become erect, and erections may not be as firm. It may take longer to achieve full arousal and to have orgasmic and ejaculatory experiences.
If a man experiences erectile dysfunction, he may find it takes longer to get an erection. His erection may not be as firm or as large as it used to be. The amount of ejaculate may be smaller. The loss of erection after orgasm may happen more quickly, or it may take longer before an erection is again possible. Some men may find they need more foreplay.
By age 65, about 15 to 25% of men have this problem at least one out of every four times they are having sex. This may happen in men with heart disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes-either because of the disease or the medicines used to treat it. Several medications are available to help men achieve or sustain an adequate erection for sexual activity.
Certain medications, such as those used to treat high blood pressure and depression, can reduce sexual desire. So, too, can declining levels of testosterone in both men and women. Nerve damage caused by diabetes and other conditions can impair a man’s ability to get and sustain an erection. And low levels of estrogen can thin and dry a woman’s vaginal tissues, making intercourse uncomfortable.
On an emotional level, long-simmering relationship difficulties may dampen desire, as can shame about an aging body. And either partner can suffer a dramatic blow to his or her sex life if the other partner is incapacitated by illness or injury.
Sexuality is often a delicate balance of emotional and physical issues. Regardless of what physical and/or emotional changes that may occur, how you feel may affect what you are able to do. Many older couples find greater satisfaction in their sex life than they did when they were younger. They have fewer distractions, more time and privacy, no worries about getting pregnant, and intimacy with a lifelong partner.
Physical problems can change your sex life as you get older. But, you and your partner may discover you have a new closeness. Don’t be afraid to talk with your doctor if you have a problem that affects your sex life. He or she may be able to suggest a treatment. And be sure to talk to your partner about your needs. You may find that affection—hugging, kissing, touching, and spending time together—can make a good beginning.