Friday, August 13, 2010
ROCHESTER, Minn. — Many older adults — ages 65 to 85 — remain sexually active and consider sexuality an important part of their lives. But with age, sexuality also can be challenging. The August issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter looks at some of the challenges and solutions to cultivating sexual desire later in life.
For men and women, medical conditions that affect general health and well-being can interfere with sexuality. Diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol can affect the cardiovascular system, and adequate blood circulation figures strongly in arousal during sexual activities. Conditions affecting joint health, such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, may impair movement or cause pain. A decrease in sexual drive (libido) is common in older adults.
For women, changes in body shape that occur naturally can affect feelings of desirability. Decreased estrogen levels result in thinning of vaginal tissues and less natural vaginal lubrication. These changes may reduce sexual desire because of pain or discomfort during sexual stimulation. With age, orgasms typically become more muted.
For men, testosterone levels gradually decrease over time, meaning erections may take longer to achieve and may not be as firm. Erectile dysfunction becomes more common as men age.
But the desire for emotional intimacy defies age; the focus on a physical relationship can shift increasingly to an emotional one. This change tends to bring older adults together for satisfying sexual intimacy even if arousal and orgasm aren't the same as they once were. While the clock can't be turned back, Mayo Clinic Health Letter describes ways to enhance sexual experiences later in life:
Communication: Partners need to talk openly about any physical difficulties as well as changes in sexual function or sexual enjoyment.
Women's options: Nonprescription products can help with vaginal dryness due to menopause. Options include a nonprescription, water-based moisturizer (Replens) or non-glycerin lubricants such as System Jo H20 or Slippery Stuff. Vaginal estrogen, available by prescription, is another option.
Men's options: Drugs such as sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis) and vardenafil (Levitra) are available to treat erectile dysfunction. However, they don't affect libido.
Other medications: Antidepressants, opiate-type drugs used for pain relief, and high blood pressure medications may affect sexual function negatively. A doctor may be able to offer other treatment options.
Exercise: Regular exercise can improve energy levels and also helps stimulate blood flow to the genitals.
Counseling: A trained therapist can offer education, suggestions, and tailored interventions to help address sexual concerns.
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