Your relationship with your sexuality as you age is uniquely personal. Some men and women find that they are interested in maintaining or forming new sexual relationships later in life. Some find that sexual relationships become more valuable than during other phases of life, and others find that they have lost interest in pursuing sexual relationships. Anywhere you land on this spectrum is completely normal.
We are committed to helping you age well and maximize your fulfillment in life as you age. Healthy sex later in life can be a vital component of this goal for ultimate well-being. Here’s what you need to know.
Sex Later in Life Can be an Important Part of Wellness
Many people have a natural decrease in their sexual interest and energy as they age. This decline can happen regardless of age, gender, or previous sexual history, and it is completely normal. As the body ages, physical changes can interfere with sexual desire and function.
In spite of these changes, it is still completely possible to enjoy a healthy sex life as you age. In fact, research shows that sexual activity in older adults has a positive impact on the overall quality of life, and the majority of older adults report that they are sexually active and find value in their sexual relationships.
Sexuality and Aging
Being involved in a sexually intimate relationship can have benefits for both men and women. As a form of exercise, sexual activity can benefit your physical health by positively affecting the cardiovascular system and the musculoskeletal system. Additionally, because it is associated with a release of endorphins, the “feel-good” hormones, sexual activity can also improve your mental health.
Both men and women can experience common threats to their sexual performance and activity as they age. Chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and arthritis, can impair sexual function and decrease desire. However, staying physically active, eating well, and avoiding the known threats to aging can help keep you enjoying your sexuality for as long as possible.
Sexuality and Aging in Women
In women, the greatest physical changes that affect sexuality occur with the onset of menopause. During menopause, women experience a decreased production of sex hormones, which can interfere with their sexual desire and function.
Some of the changes that women may experience with sexuality as they age include the following:
- Increased vaginal dryness
- Pain with intercourse
- Decreased vaginal lubrication
- Decreased physical sensation
- Decreased desire for sexual activity
Many of these changes can be improved with medication or activity modification, so if you are experiencing uncomfortable symptoms that are interfering with your sexual relationships, make sure to discuss them with your healthcare provider.
Sexuality and Aging in Men
As men age, physical problems such as erectile dysfunction can interfere with sexual desire and function. The inability to achieve or maintain an erection is a very common problem later in life, with up to 75 percent of men reporting this concern by age 75.
Men can also experience the following changes with their sexuality as they age:
- Decreased physical sensation
- Decreased erectile firmness
- Decreased desire for sexual activity
Many of these concerns can be managed with medication or lifestyle changes, so do not suffer in silence—make sure to address any symptoms you may be having related to your sexuality at your next healthcare appointment.
Health Conditions That Can Interfere With Healthy Sex Later in Life
Many older adults find that, while they continue to have the desire to pursue sexual relationships, their sexual desire and function is impaired by a health condition. Health conditions that can commonly interfere with sexuality as adults age include the following:
- Cardiovascular disease and other circulatory problems
- Neurological problems
- Orthopedic problems, such as arthritis
- Depression or other mood disorders
- Chronic pain
- Prostate surgery or prostate cancer
- Vaginal, uterine, or bladder prolapse
- Recurrent urinary tract infections
Certain medications can interfere with sexual desire or function, as well. If you find that a medication or chronic health condition is interfering with your ability to enjoy sex, or your desire for sex, make sure to discuss this with your healthcare provider.
How to Stay Sexually Healthy Later in Life
Staying on top of your chronic health conditions, by working with your primary care provider and specialists as needed, can help reduce the impact that they have on your sexual health.
Additionally, there are many other steps you can take to ensure that you are able to enjoy a healthy, safe, and functional sex life as you age.
Healthy Sex in Women
For women, many treatments are available for the common symptoms associated with sexuality and aging. Medications that are typically prescribed to help with menopausal and postmenopausal symptoms can improve sexual function and increase sexual desire. A water-based vaginal lubricant can help with dryness or reduced vaginal lubrication, a problem that is experienced by 4 out of 10 older women. Pelvic floor muscle exercises, such as Kegel exercises, can also help improve sexual arousal, orgasm, and satisfaction as women age.
Healthy Sex in Men
For men, medications can be used to help improve erectile function and other sexual concerns associated with aging. It is very important to have an open conversation with your healthcare provider about any other medications that you may be taking, as certain medications that are used to improve erectile function (such as Viagra or Cialis) should not be combined with medications used to help with cardiovascular conditions (such as Nitroglycerin). Pelvic floor muscle exercises, such as Kegel exercises, have also been shown to reduce erectile dysfunction in men.
When it comes to staying safe while enjoying an active sex life, the same principles surrounding safe sex that you have applied throughout your life also apply as you age. It is important to engage in sexual relationships in which you feel safe and to use active communication during sexual intimacy.
In order to prevent the transmission of sexual diseases, it is also important to use protection during sexual activity, such as a condom barrier device. Many older adults are particularly vulnerable to contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs)—and STIs in older adults are on the rise—because pregnancy is not a concern and sexual barrier devices are less commonly used.
How to Learn More About Sexuality and Aging
If you are interested in learning more about sexual health as you age, you can check out the following resources:
- Health in Aging, by the American Geriatrics Society
- Menopause and Sexuality, by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- Erectile Dysfunction Patient Guide, by the Urology Care Foundation
At Lompoc Valley Medical Center, one of our primary goals is to help you age well by living well. You can make an appointment to discuss your sexual health with a primary care provider or specialist by visiting our provider’s page.