As you age, it doesn’t mean that you suddenly lose interest in sex. It’s very common for people to remain sexually active throughout their lives.
How your sex life evolves as you age is largely up to you. Your body will change as you get older, and your sexual health will change, too. These changes may require you to adapt. But you can have a healthy, enjoyable sex life — at any age.
Path to improved health
Sex is an important part of emotional and physical health. In a relationship, sexual activity allows you to establish intimacy (closeness) and express your feelings for your partner. It also benefits your physical health by reducing stress and making you feel good about yourself.
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.
- Talk to your doctor. Although many adults have sexual problems as they age, few of them talk to their doctors about their symptoms. Your doctor can help you improve your sexual health by treating medical conditions, including erectile dysfunction (inability of a man to maintain an erection). Your doctor may be able to find medicines that don’t affect your sexual activity. Also, he or she can suggest ways for you and your partner to enjoy sex.
- Talk to your partner. At first, it may be uncomfortable to talk openly with your partner about sex. But it’s important to communicate with each other. Tell your partner about your feelings and concerns. Talk about what you want from your shared sexual experiences.
- If you and your partner are having sexual problems, change your routine. Allow more time for arousal. Try new positions. Be creative. You may find you don’t have intercourse as often as you used to, but you can find new ways to be intimate. Spend time touching, kissing, and enjoying each other’s company.
- Practice safe sex. Older adults are still at risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Ask your partner about his or her sexual history, and share yours. Consider getting tested for STIs together before you become intimate. To prevent STIs, always use a condom when having sex.
- Stay healthy. To stay in shape and help prevent disease, be sure to exercise, eat right, and see your doctor for regular preventive care.
Things to consider
As we age, our bodies change. We may not always welcome these changes. The best way to deal with them is to be honest about them. Be honest with yourself, your doctor, and your partner.
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 his penis to become erect. Erections may not be as firm or last as long. It may also take longer to ejaculate. Erectile dysfunction is more common the older a man gets. However, this condition doesn’t happen to everyone.
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 has had surgery or is sick (for example, if he or she has cancer or has had a heart attack), you may be afraid to initiate sexual activity because you are worried that sex might harm your partner.
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.
A note for caregivers
If you care for an older adult, 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.
Questions for your doctor
- Should I get tested for STIs?
- How often can I take medicine to help with erectile dysfunction?
- Could I be allergic to lubricant?
- Is it too late in life to increase my desire for sex (libido)?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.