Sex and Aging

Written by Pamela Rogers, MS, PhD | Published on July 22, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on July 22, 2014

Sex and Aging

Changes in sexual desire and behavior throughout the life cycle are normal. This is especially true as you enter your later years. Once it was thought that older people didn’t have sex, but we now acknowledge that people are—and encourage them to remain—sexually active (if they choose) throughout their lives.

What We Know

Intimacy and connection are just as important later in life as they are earlier. Although scientific research on the frequency and types of sexual activity among older people is lacking, there has been some progress recently. For example, we now know that the most important predictor of sexual interest and activity in a person’s later years is frequency of sexual activity earlier in life: If sex is central to a person’s happiness at age 30, it will probably still be at age 60.

When sexual activity decreases or ceases for men, the most common causes are lack of desire (usually resulting from medications), ill health, and erectile difficulties. Women most often report they stop having intercourse due to a lack of desire (usually resulting from medications), loss of a partner, hormonal changes linked to menopause, or a partner’s wishes.

Although studies show interest in sexual activity continues, research consistently shows a decrease in penis-vagina intercourse as people age. In addition, some illnesses and disabilities require that couples try different positions for intercourse, which may be off-putting to some. Finally, research tells us that over the years “attachment” to a partner becomes more important than “attraction,” and satisfaction is measured more in terms of affection, security, and commitment than sexual fulfillment.

Good Sex After 50

Keeping Sexually Fit

Men who have frequent penile stimulation have an easier time getting and maintaining erections. Women who have frequent genital and clitoral stimulation have better self-lubrication. You should view self-pleasuring (masturbation) as a natural supplementary activity within a relationship.

Outercourse and Disregarding the Goal-Oriented Approach

A good sex life at any age involves considerably more than just sex. It’s also about intimacy and touch. Obviously, these are activities anyone can benefit from. Even if you are ill or have physical disabilities, you can engage in intimate acts and benefit from closeness with another person. Take the pressure off by putting aside your old ideas of sex being focused on penetration and orgasm. As humans age and become less focused on their genitals, they are more likely to discover the sensuousness of their entire bodies.

Outercourse is a term used for the great variety of erotic experiences that do not include intercourse or penetrative sex. Outercourse validates pleasure and connectedness as ends in themselves without focusing on the singular goal of intercourse. Take your time, relax, and enjoy the experience of sensual touching.

Overcoming Sexual Problems by Improving Communication

As bodies and feelings change as you get older, it becomes more important than ever to communicate your thoughts, fears, and desires to your partner. People tend to assume their partners know what they like in the bedroom. Often, people give no feedback on their experience in order to please a partner. So partners think whatever they are doing is right and keep doing it. Use humor, be honest, and be open to new ideas to improve sexual communication.

Safe Sex for Older Adults

The risk of AIDS is increasing at twice the rate in people over 50 compared to people under 50. People over 50 constitute 11 percent of new AIDS cases. Many physicians are reluctant to talk about sex with older people. It may also be harder to recognize sexually transmitted infections and their symptoms, especially HIV, among older people. Symptoms can be similar to those of other illnesses that commonly affect older adults: feeling tired or confused, loss of appetite, and swollen glands, for example. People who are sexually active should familiarize themselves with sexually transmitted infections and how to avoid them as well as the correct way to use and store condoms.

If sexually transmitted infections do become a problem, remember to expand your definition of sex to include activities in which there is no exchange of bodily fluids; people get enormous sexual gratification from self-pleasuring (masturbation), sharing of sexual fantasies, cuddling, kissing, reading erotica, petting, and caressing.

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