How Aging Impacts Sexuality


Dan Brubaker

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As you age and hormone levels decline, you can expect your body to change. You will also face other physical and social challenges. You may need to undergo surgery. Your doctor may prescribe daily medications. You might struggle with the transition into retirement, or take on the role of caregiver to your spouse. All of these factors can put a damper on your sexuality. And since it takes two to tango, a problem for one person often translates into a problem for a couple.

But it’s time to reject misconceptions that advanced age eliminates all desire or capacity for sexual expression. Your sex life may be different from what it was in your younger days. But if you adjust your expectations, you can continue to find sexual satisfaction.

What Women Can Expect

Women tend to reach menopause around age 50. The hormonal shift that accompanies menopause leads to physical change. The walls of the vagina become thinner and dryer, often resulting in pain during sex, and in turn, a lack of desire. Luckily, lubricants and creams can help address the underlying issues and restore comfort during intimacy.

Women 50 or older are also more prone to vaginal infections from bacteria. Their orgasms may be less intense. And they may notice diminished blood flow to their genitals and breasts.

Unfortunately, it’s also likely that you may outlive your spouse. For many women, it’s a lack of access to a partner that can curtail sexual activity.

Ready for some positive news? You may find your sexual desire actually increases after menopause, with pregnancy no longer a fear and menstruation no longer an issue.

What Men Can Expect

Around age 30, men will start to experience a 1% annual decrease in serum testosterone levels. Your doctor can measure your testosterone with a blood test. And testosterone therapy, if appropriate, can supplement the amount of the hormone you’re naturally producing. But if your testosterone levels reflect the normal decline that comes with age, it’s unlikely your doctor will recommend this treatment. The risks and benefits are murky.

As men age, they can expect a decrease in penis sensitivity. So achieving and maintaining an erection will require prolonged and direct stimulation. Orgasms may be shorter and less intense. They may ejaculate less semen. And after ejaculation it may take longer before they can get an erection again. For men in their 80s and older, this period might extend for days.

A positive for guys? If you struggle with premature ejaculation you may see this issue resolve itself with time.

What Women Can Reject

Reject any thought in your head that women 65 and older cease to be sexually active. According to one report, 74% of women in this age group have sex weekly. You should also know that aging doesn’t affect your capacity to have an orgasm—even multiple orgasms.

The likelihood that you will maintain sexual interest has more to do with emotional and social factors than with fluctuating hormones and the related physical changes. The presence and health status of a partner, the quality of your relationship, and your overall life satisfaction play a larger role.

What Men Can Reject

Reject the idea that erectile dysfunction (ED) is an inevitable part of aging. Eat a balanced diet. Stay active. Moderate your alcohol consumption. Avoid tobacco and illegal drugs. Be proactive in these areas and you can offset the physical and mental health problems that contribute to erectile issues. In a study of nearly 300 men aged 60 and older, about 74% reported continued sexual activity.

Know that even if you do develop ED, there are medications, devices, and implants that can help satisfy your sexual needs. Talk to your physician or healthcare provider for accurate information and treatment recommendations.

Tips for Maintaining Sexual Health

  • Communicate honestly, sharing your needs and listening to your partner’s.

  • Schedule your sexual activity, taking pain medicine beforehand if necessary.

  • Experiment with sex in the morning if that’s when you have more energy.

  • Consider different positions to find those that match your physical comfort.

  • Redefine sex to include hugging, kissing, spooning and masturbating.

  • Focus on mutual feelings of warmth, comfort and happiness.

Make it common practice to discuss sexual issues alone with your doctor at every visit. If you start a new medication or require a procedure, ask your doctor how it might affect your sex life. Don’t assume your age is to blame for sexual dissatisfaction. And don’t feel ashamed about your continued desire for sexual contact. Doctors understand that we never outgrow our need for sexual and emotional intimacy

Smiling Man

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Aug 16, 2016

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