- Many older people say they enjoy their sex lives more now than ever.
- As men age, they lose the ability to get and maintain an erection at the drop of a hat.
- In women, the vagina shortens, narrows, and dries with age.
That said, sex after 50 is hardly the spur-of-the-moment roll in the hay that it once was. Starting with middle age, issues (both emotional and physical) can arise dampening desire. And if not our desire, then our ability to follow through on it.
For starters, men experience a decline in testosterone and estrogen, which can make it difficult to get and maintain an erection. At the same time, women experience a drop in estrogen and androgens, along with a thinning and drying of the vaginal walls. Nevertheless, many of us older folks are just as motivated to be sexual now as we were in our 20s and 30s. That said, our sexual arousal often involves a shift from sexual intensity to sexual intimacy.
Below I’ve listed six tips that can help you and your partner stay in the game. Some of the tips are for men, some for women, and some for both. Whatever your gender, I suggest that you read the entire list. That way, you will understand not only your own issues but your partner’s, and the two of you can work together to rekindle the romance.
Erectile dysfunction:As men age, they lose the ability to get and maintain an erection at the drop of a hat. Erections don’t happen as quickly or easily as they used to. And when erection is achieved, the penis may not get as big or as hard. Erectile dysfunction drugs like Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra can help, but they’re not always the answer. They can also have side effects, especially for individuals with cardiac and blood pressure concerns, so they should not be taken without first consulting your doctor. The challenges are sometimes related to function of the prostate gland, which may cause not only ED but lead to less powerful and less pleasurable orgasms.
Vaginal dryness:The vagina shortens, narrows, and dries with age. The changes can cause pain during sex. Happily, lubed condoms, water-based lube, and vaginal moisturizers can fix the matter. Women can also speak to their doctor about vaginal estrogen, which is available as a cream, a pill, or an insert.
Medical/physical conditions:Ongoing health issues like diabetes and heart disease, both of which are common among older adults, can create sexual problems. Diabetes can damage nerves and blood vessels that supply sex organs, creating erectile dysfunction for men, loss of feeling and susceptibility to yeast infections for women. Heart disease causes arteries to narrow and harden, decreasing blood flow, including blood flow to sexual organs, leading to the same basic issues as diabetes. The good news is that both diabetes and heart disease and their impact can be held in check with exercise, healthy eating, and, when needed, medications. Other physical issues that can impact a person’s sex life include arthritis, high cholesterol, weight gain (or loss), stroke, chronic pain, and side effects from various medications. In consultation with a medical professional and with patience from an understanding partner, all of these issues can be worked around.
Aging bodies:An often unspoken and unaddressed issue impacting sexual desire and function is that, as we age, our bodies are not as supple and firm as they once were. This can lead to body shame and even depression. Rather than ignoring these feelings, we should discuss them. Often, we might not feel sexy, but our partner still thinks we are. We can also combat this by eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly. For couples, it is helpful if both partners embark on this type of health regimen, as they can then compliment one another (helping with self-esteem) while also building emotional intimacy through shared experience.
Variations in sexual desire (Part 1):As we age, the amount and type of sexual contact we desire (as individuals and also as a couple) will change. Unfortunately, our partners are not always in sync with the changes. One may still want frequent sex while the other wants less. One may still want athletic sex while the other may want something more sedate. If and when we are not in agreement with our partners on frequency and type of sex, an experienced sexologist or couple’s therapist can help.
Variations in sexual desire (Part 2):As sexual desires (and abilities) change with age, couples can get creative sexually. Sex toys, lubricants, and special pillows can make sex more comfortable (and therefore more enjoyable). More important, the definition of sex can be altered. For example, many older couples take the emphasis off of orgasm, instead focusing on other forms of physical pleasure, perhaps as provided by massage and other forms of warm, intimate touch.
The good news for those who’ve either joined or been asked to join AARP is that sex can be just as enjoyable now as when we were younger. Especially when we expand and reinvent our definition of sex to include more than traditional intercourse. Caressing, hugging, kissing, and both manual and oral stimulation can all be exciting and intimate ways to keep the spark of sexuality alive, regardless of age. When seen from this perspective, there are infinite ways to keep the fire of sexual intimacy and passion alive—regardless of age.