With age comes a variety of mental and physical changes that can affect libido, sexual functioning, and intimacy. However, these changes don’t automatically mean the end of your sex life — in fact, according to the University of Michigan’s National Poll On Healthy Aging, 40% of adults aged 65–80 are sexually active, and 76% agree that sex is an important part of a romantic relationship. With the right accommodations, many older adults can, and do, enjoy healthy and satisfying sex lives well into their senior years.
Relearning Your Body
While it is entirely normal for your sexual organs to age as you do — vaginal walls shorten and narrow, less natural lubrication may be produced, and many men experience impotence (also known as erectile dysfunction or ED) — these changes can make sex difficult and potentially painful.
Fortunately, there are many options available to accommodate these changes.
If you are experiencing vaginal dryness, water-based lubricating jellies or lubricated condoms can make penetrative sex more comfortable. Try to avoid soaps, bath oils, and shower gels, as these can aggravate dryness — instead use lukewarm water alone or combined with a soap-free cleanser.
Impotence can be the result of physical or psychological causes, so it is important to contact your GP and receive an accurate diagnosis. Your doctor may recommend medication to help you maintain your erections (tablets called PDE5 inhibitors, more commonly known by the brand names Viagra, Cialis, Levitra, or Stendra), penis injections, pumps, implants, or counselling.
Pelvic floor muscle dysfunction can lead to incontinence, causing embarrassment and anxiety about engaging in sexual activity. If you are experiencing incontinence or other symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction, reach out to your doctor to discuss treatment options.
Exploring Your Options
Along with the natural changes mentioned above, medical conditions such arthritis and chronic pain can exacerbate sexual problems.
Experiment with different positions and adaptive equipment (or use pillows) to reduce pressure on your joints. Taking a bath or painkillers before sex can also prevent inflammation and pain.
Consider exploring other forms of stimulation, such as oral sex, masturbating each other, and sex toys. Remember: penetration is not the be-all and end-all of sex. Other avenues of sexual activity can be just as exciting and satisfying, and there is no shame in experimenting to find what works for you.
If you are worried about engaging in sexual activity due to a medical diagnosis such as heart disease, ask your GP about how you can be intimate safely.
With Trust Comes Intimacy
A reduction in sexual desire is a common side effect of aging, but studies have shown that sexual enjoyment can actually increase with age — women in their 70s often express more satisfaction than women in their 40s, and many women aged 80 and older report sexual satisfaction almost always to always.
To increase sexual enjoyment, it is important to maintain open avenues of communication with your partner. Be vocal about your desires and boundaries, both inside and outside of the bedroom. Consider activities such as undressing each other slowly or showering and bathing together to ignite passion.
You Are Not Alone
Difficulties in the bedroom can often lead to shame and low self-esteem, but your sexual functioning has no bearing on your character or worth as a person. If you are struggling with sexual problems, reach out to your GP, counsellors, or a sexual and relationship therapist — they are there to help you, not judge you.
If you are experiencing persistent low moods, talk to your doctor and seek support from your loved ones.
Your sex life may not be the same as it was when you were in your twenties, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Many older adults maintain fulfilling sex lives into their 90s — and with the appropriate resources, professional guidance, and a lifetime of experience under your belt, so can you.