Sex is an important part of emotional and physical health. In a relationship, sexual activity allows you to establish intimacy and express your feelings for your partner. It also benefits your physical health by reducing stress and making you feel good about yourself.
As you age, your sexual health will change. But growing older doesn’t have to mean the end of your sexual activity. You can have a healthy, enjoyable sex life at any age.
Changes for women: As a woman approaches menopause, her estrogen levels begin to decrease. This may lead to vaginal dryness and thinning, which can make intercourse uncomfortable. In addition, she may have less sex drive. It may take longer to become sexually aroused. Her body may change in size or shape, which may affect her self-esteem.
Changes for men: As a man gets older, his testosterone levels begin to decrease. It may take longer for him to become sexually aroused. It may take longer for the penis to become erect. Erections may not be as firm or last as long. It may also take longer for an older man to ejaculate. Erectile dysfunction is more common the older a man gets. However, this condition isn’t an inevitable part of getting older.
Medical conditions: Your overall health affects your sexual health. As you grow older, your risk for health problems increases. Conditions such as arthritis, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and depression can make sex more challenging. Health problems can also decrease sex drive, or affect your ability to become aroused or have an orgasm. If your partner is sick (for example, if he or she has cancer or has had a heart attack) or has had surgery, you may be afraid to initiate sexual activity because you are worried that sex might harm your partner.
Medicines: Many older adults take one or more prescription medicines. All medicines have side effects, and some may affect your sexual activity. For example, certain medicines may decrease your sex drive, or affect your ability to become aroused or have an orgasm.
As your body and your sexual performance change, you may worry about how your partner will react. You may feel embarrassed or nervous. You might even avoid sexual activity. But don’t give up. There are many things you can do to make up for the changes that aging brings to your sex life. Read through the tips below and work with your partner to maintain a satisfying sex life.
If you care for an older adult, try to be sensitive about his or her sex life. You may feel uncomfortable addressing a new romance or talking about sexual health with the person you care for, but these are important parts of an older adult’s emotional and physical well-being. Try to answer questions, address concerns, and acknowledge new relationships with respect.
Sexuality in Later Life by National Institute on Aging ( April 12, 2012, http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/sexuality-later-life)
Safe Sex for Seniors (PDF) by American Geriatrics Society Foundation for Health in Aging ( April 12, 2012, http://www.healthinaging.org/public_education/safe_sex_tips.pdf)
A study of sexuality and health among older adults in the United States. by Lindau ST, Schumm LP, Laumann EO, et al. (N Engl J Med August 23, 2007, http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa067423#t=articleBackground)
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff