Between the vaginal dryness, erectile dysfunction, and health issues, a thriving sex life may seem like a thing of the past. Don’t let your age hold you back you from having the passionate sex life you deserve.
By Rossana Sida, AMFT
People are sexual beings throughout their lifespan and that includes our senior years. Studies show that although the frequency of sex decreases with age, the desire for sex and one’s erotic style is not affected by age. Seniors are wanting to have fulfilling sex lives yet they may not engage in sex as frequently due to the biological, psychological, and social challenges that they face as they age. Although some changes are to be expected, such as a loss of energy, there are many others, such as illness, that come as a shock to seniors and can greatly hamper their sex life. Below is a list of 5 changes seniors can expect to have an effect on their sex lives:
1. Men’s Sexual Health Issues:
As men age, it is natural for their testosterone (a male sexual hormone) levels to decrease. Lowered testosterone levels are thought to be the primary cause of male sexual issues such as a loss of interest in sex, erectile dysfunction or changes in the firmness of the erection, and the inability (or delayed ability) to ejaculate. Psychological issues, such as divorce or transitioning into retirement, may also be the cause of changes in sexual performance. Although a loss of interest in sex is considered normal, 41% of men ages 66-74 report it has caused distress or harm in their lives (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). With the popularization of medications for erectile and ejaculation concerns, such as testosterone therapies and Viagra, many men have increased their expectations for a virile sex life into their senior years, and why shouldn’t they? With the help of medication, exercise, sex therapy, and proper nutrition, men have more control than ever before over their sexual health.
2. Women’s Sexual Health Issues:
Many women experience a decrease in their sexual interest, vaginal dryness, and painful sex post-menopause. The cause of these issues may be physical (changes in hormone levels, high blood pressure, etc.) or psychological (relationship conflict, depression, anxiety, etc.). These sexual issues commonly co-occur; for example, a lack of interest in sex will result in little to no vaginal lubrication thus causing pain upon intercourse. Although the frequency of sex decreases as women age, about 60% of women ages 70 to 89 report being satisfied or very satisfied with their sex life (Let’s Talk About Sex, 2018). Likely this is due to all the ways in which women can seek treatment for their sexual health issues such as sex therapy, vaginal lubricants, and hormone treatments.
3. The Body:
Do you find yourself attractive? Studies show that as women age they are less likely to rate themselves as attractive and, regardless of their specific phase of life, report that they would find themselves more attractive if they were 10 years younger. Decreased view of attractiveness as one ages isn’t just for women; about 30% of men also report being unhappy with their bodies. Many men attribute their body self-consciousness to the loss of muscle, gaining weight, and other physical signs of aging (Feeling Frumpy, 2005). These negative self-images can create an avoidance of sex due to lowered self-esteem, anxiety about sexual performance, and a lowered sense of desirability.
4. Loss of Spouse:
Whether divorced or widowed, being a single senior can be a major challenge for your sex life. Anxiety about dating or having sex with someone new can be intense, especially for those who were virgins before marriage. These concerns can be processed with a sex therapist who will explore your fears, sexual attitudes, and work with you to set your personal boundaries in accordance with your sexual beliefs. Also, keep in mind that unpartnered sex (masturbation) is always a safe, fun, and convenient option.
After the arrival of an illness, emotional intimacy is prioritized over sexuality. Psychological effects of illness often leave partners feeling a loss of their femininity/masculinity, depression, and anxiety. Increased education about the specific illness and psychotherapy can help foster understanding between the couple that will nurture their need for increased intimacy. Although a difficult time in life, illness doesn’t have to mean the end of your sex life. In fact, it can mean a new beginning of a sex life that is more imaginative, adapted for comfort, and intentional.