Here’s a decade-by-decade plan so you can enjoy a healthy sex life for years beyond your “peak.”
In Your 20s ...
Practice Safe Sex
Nearly two-thirds of all sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) occur in women under the age of 25. In addition, the average unmarried woman in her 20s is more likely to have multiple partners, which increases her exposure to STDs and infections and ups the chances of an unintended pregnancy. Birth control can prevent pregnancy, but to guard against herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and other STDs, it’s important to use a condom with every sexual encounter.
Get the HPV Vaccine
Although it’s recommended for 11- to 12-year-olds, many women age 13 to 26 can benefit from the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which guards against some high-risk HPV strains that cause genital warts and cervical cancer. Even with the vaccine, it is possible to contract another strain of the virus. There are more than 100 strains; the vaccine covers only four.
Have Regular Check-ups
If you’re sexually active, get a yearly Pap smear and pelvic exam starting three years after your first sexual encounter or by age 21. Because many STDs don’t exhibit any symptoms, a yearly STD screening is important, too.
In Your 30s ...
Decide on Family Planning
In the security of a stable relationship, many women find that their libido lights up. But unless you’re looking to start a family, proper birth control is still important. The most popular method is the birth control pill. Other options: vaginal rings, birth control patches, shots, or injections, condoms (male or female), implantable rods, and intrauterine devices (IUDs). Talk to your doctor about your future goals and decide which birth control is right for you.
Speak Up About Painful Sex
Pain during sex may be a sign you have endometriosis. This is a reproductive disorder in which the endometrium, the tissue that lines the uterus, also grows on the ovaries, pelvis, and fallopian tubes. As the endometrium in your uterus sheds during your period, the misplaced endometrium in other parts of your body also sheds, causing inflammation and scarring in the pelvis. If left untreated, endometriosis may cause infertility and increase your risk for ovarian cancer.
In Your 40s ...
Balance Your Hormones
The hormonal ups and downs of perimenopause (the five to 10 years before menopause) bring with them a lower libido, irregular periods, and vaginal dryness. A low-dose birth control pill or intrauterine device (IUD)—if you’re finished having kids—can help even out hormones and prevent unwanted pregnancies, which are still possible at this point.
Stay Alert for STDs
With half of all first marriages ending in divorce, many women find themselves single again in their 40s and 50s. You’re no teenager anymore, but the same rules of protection and precaution apply. Use condoms (or go back on the pill if you haven’t gone through menopause yet), and get regular STD screenings until you get into a monogamous relationship.
In Your 50s ...
Mind your Menopause Symptoms
The average age for starting menopause is 51. With menopause comes a hormonal drop that can mean lower sexual libido, mood swings, and hot flashes—plenty of excuses to avoid sex altogether. But with your doctor’s help, you can manage the symptoms of menopause until your hormone levels even out.
Go for Lubricant
Lower hormone levels can leave your vaginal tissue thin and dry. That means sex may become uncomfortable—and undesirable. For many women, a little lubricant or moisturizer will help, but others may need a prescription cream that contains estrogen to relieve dryness and inflammation.
Talk About Your Surgical Options
After childbearing is complete, many women explore surgical options to ease abnormal bleeding, pelvic pain, or a sagging uterus (caused by weakened tissues and muscles from pregnancies and aging). The most common surgical option is hysterectomy (removal of the uterus). In some cases, if you’re dealing with fibroids or bleeding, other treatments such as endometrial ablation or uterine artery embolization are easier and require less recovery time.
In Your 60s and 70s ...
Don’t Quit on Sex
Plenty of women over the age of 60 remain sexually active. And as pregnancy is no longer a concern, many find they enjoy sex more. Plus, people over 60 who have regular sex tend to be healthier than contemporaries who have sex less often or not at all.
Slow Things Down
It may take a while for both you and your partner to get going. Let foreplay take as long as you need, and you’ll cut down on the risk of injuries such as fractures and sprains. You’ll also enjoy the experience more as you both build up together.
With the increase in erectile dysfunction (ED) drugs (and their prevalence in senior living centers and retirement homes), active sex lives are on the increase in older populations. But that doesn’t change the facts of vaginal dryness, STDs, and infections. In fact, because vaginal pH rises with the decreases in estrogen, your chances for infections, such as bacterial vaginosis, increase as well. Keep condoms and lube on hand, and don’t use soap to wash your vagina. Instead, look for a cleanser that has the same pH as a healthy vagina (between 3.8 and 4.5).