Sexual feelings don't disappear as you age. Here's how to keep the flame burning.
By Mayo Clinic Staff
Sexual health is important at any age. And the desire for intimacy is timeless. While sex may not be the same as it was in your 20s, it can still be as fulfilling as ever. Discover which aspects of sexual health are likely to change as you age — and how you and your partner can adapt.
To maintain a satisfying sex life, talk with your partner. Set aside time to be sensual and sexual together. When you're spending intimate time with your partner, share your thoughts about lovemaking. Help your partner understand what you want from him or her. Be honest about what you're experiencing physically and emotionally.
People of all ages should know how to practice safe sex. If you're having sex with a new or different partner, always use a condom. Also talk with your doctor about other ways to protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections.
If you're in a long-term monogamous relationship and you've both tested negative for sexually transmitted infections, you probably don't need to worry about protection. Until you know for sure, however, use a condom when you have sex.
Testosterone plays a critical role in a man's sexual experience. Testosterone levels peak in the late teens and then gradually decline. Most men notice a difference in their sexual response by age 60 to 65. The penis may take longer to become erect, and erections may not be as firm. It may take longer to achieve full arousal and to have orgasmic and ejaculatory experiences. Erectile dysfunction also becomes more common. Several medications are available to help men achieve or sustain an adequate erection for sexual activity.
As women approach menopause, their estrogen levels decrease, which may lead to vaginal dryness and slower sexual arousal. Women may experience emotional changes as well. While some women may enjoy sex more without worrying about pregnancy, naturally occurring changes in body shape and size may cause others to feel less sexually desirable.
Any condition that affects your general health and well-being may also affect your sexual health. Illnesses that involve the cardiovascular system, high blood pressure, diabetes, hormonal problems, depression or anxiety — and the medications used to treat these conditions — can pose challenges to being sexually active. High blood pressure, for instance, can affect your ability to become aroused, as can certain medications used to treat high blood pressure.
In addition, any surgical procedure that affects your pelvis and your central nervous system will have a temporary — but often significant — impact on your sexual response. The body, however, is resilient. Given time to heal and some loving attention, you can become sexually responsive again.
Certain medications can inhibit your sexual response, including your desire for sex and your body's ability to become aroused or have an orgasm. If you're experiencing sexual side effects from a medication, consult your doctor. It may be possible to switch to a different medication with fewer sexual side effects. If you take several medications, each of which can have a different effect on your sexual function, try varying the type of sexual activity you engage in and how you approach it.
If you're ill, your sexuality may temporarily take a back seat to other needs. Pain, discomfort, medications or worry can overshadow your sexual desire. Consider talking with your partner about other ways to be close during this time.
If you're the caregiver, the demands of caring for your partner may take a toll on your sexual desire. Find a way to set aside the caregiver role from time to time, and be a partner instead — so that you can relax and feel nurtured by your partner. That way, you can enjoy a mutually satisfying sexual encounter.
Differences in libidos are common among couples of all ages. Couples can become stuck in a pattern where one person initiates contact while the other avoids it. If you mainly avoid sex, consider taking charge of some engagement. If you usually initiate sex, try talking with your partner about what you need.
If you're worried about hurting your partner's feelings, talk about your experience using "I" statements — such as "I think my body responds better when ...." In turn, try to understand your partner's needs and desires. Together you can find ways to accommodate both your needs.
Many couples want to know how to get back to the sexual arousal and activity levels they experienced in their 20s, 30s and early 40s. Instead, find ways to optimize your body's response for sexual experiences now. Ask yourselves what's satisfying and mutually acceptable.
Many books are available about how to maintain a healthy sex life as you get older. In addition, many couples find consulting with an expert helpful. Your doctor may be able to provide useful suggestions or refer you to a specialist.
Sep. 17, 2011
- Kingsberg SA. The psychological impact of aging on sexuality and relationships. Journal of Women's Health & Gender-based Medicine. 2000;9:S33.
- Read J. Sexual problems associated with infertility, pregnancy and ageing. British Medical Journal. 2004;329:559.
- Sexuality in later life. National Institute on Aging. http://www.nia.nih.gov/HealthInformation/Publications/sexuality.htm. Accessed July 12, 2011.
- HIV, AIDS, and older people. National Institute on Aging. http://www.nia.nih.gov/NR/rdonlyres/406F1413-29E3-4944-A25C-16C98D86F097/12531/HIVpartsAPFINAL41309.pdf. Accessed July 12, 2011.
- Kaiser FE. Sexual function and the older woman. Clinics in Geriatric Medicine. 2003;19:463.
- Jung A, et al. Male sexuality and advancing age. European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. 2004;113:123.
- Szwabo PA. Counseling about sexuality in the older person. Clinics in Geriatric Medicine. 2003;19:595.
- Lindau ST, et al. A study of sexuality and health among older adults in the United States. New England Journal of Medicine. 2007;357:762.
- Hartmann U, et al. Low sexual desire in midlife and older women: Personality factors, psychosocial development, present sexuality. Menopause: The Journal of the North American Menopause Society. 2004;11:726.
- Peate I. Sexuality and sexual health promotion for the older person. British Journal of Nursing. 2004;13:188.
- The menopause years. American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. http://www.acog.org/publications/patient_education/bp047.cfm. Accessed July 12, 2011.
- Can we prevent aging? National Institute on Aging. http://www.nia.nih.gov/HealthInformation/Publications/preventaging.htm. Accessed July 12, 2011.
- Spark RF. Treatment of male sexual dysfunction. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed July 12, 2011.
- Swanson JB (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. July 12, 2011.