Sex is not just for the young

In the eyes of many people, youthfulness is synonymous with our ability to express our sexual desires, while aging is the process through which these capacities decline.

This need not be the case; older people have sexual desires too. On average, they have sex as often as younger folk. Yet while age is no obstacle to good sex, it does impact significantly on our sexual functions.

As women age, for example, they may take longer to attain the vaginal lubrication needed to make sexual intercourse comfortable and set the stage for climax, and their orgasms may decrease in number and intensity.  In aging men, it can take longer to obtain and maintain erections sufficient to enable satisfactory sexual intercourse.

But our decline in sexual function need not be a barrier to sexual enjoyment, provided our specific needs are recognized and met (with lubricants, topical creams and sufficient stimulation or foreplay, etc).

There are a number of reasons for our so-called ‘age-related’ changes.  Declining levels of sex hormones, especially testosterone, can impact on our level of desire and sexual interest, as well as the functioning of our sex organs.

Physical and mental diseases can also contribute to our sexual problems, while relationship factors and the impacts of stress are heightened as we age.  Declining sexual function as we age is also linked to reduced sexual activity.  And this can set a vicious cycle in motion because with sex, it seems, it’s a case of ‘use it or lose it’.

Fortunately, all the factors mentioned above are modifiable. What happens depends partly on the choices we make today in relation to improving and maintaining our health and our sexual functions.

For example, exercise helps us to maintain our sex organs in peak condition. Rewarding sexual experiences serve to bolster our levels of arousal and make sex better for us in the future. In fact, frequent sexual activity when we are younger is associated with a slower rate of decline in our sexual functions as we grow older.

How to keep sex alive

The following highlights the options to help foster a healthy intimate bond with your partner. Maintaining a healthy sex life  as you age offers many physiological and psychological benefits, read on to find out how to keep the sex alive!

Involve your partner

This may seem the most obvious thing written on this blog, yet sex and sexuality are often kept too private, so that success comes by accident or telepathy, rather than effective team work.

Be aware of the health (or otherwise) of your sex life

You don’t need to be paranoid, but neither do you need to pretend that everything is all right.

Create an environment of trust with your partner so that you can explore your sexuality:

  • Set ground rules e.g. If sex in a public space is your worst nightmare, tell your partner that you don’t feel comfortable
  • Choose to be non-judgemental when discussing sexual issues
  • Avoid playing the blame game
  • Tell your partner what you really want…or show them
  • Know your limitations and feel free to express them

Recognize the different needs of sex as you age

Both women and men may need more stimulation, foreplay or lubrication.

  • Start with kissing…it will often lead to more
  • Buy a bottle of lubricant and keep it by the bed. Use it if you need it and make it part of the fun
  • As a couple, find out what sex toys you are both interested in and try them out
  • Try ‘sexy talk’ or phone sex to get in the mood
  • Realize that for each of us the time to orgasm will vary so take the time and allow the process to happen without pressure
  • Discuss your sexual fantasies with one another. Know that this doesn’t necessarily mean playing them out; discussing them might be enough to get you in the mood

Remember: sex isn’t all about the sex act

It can include romance and intimacy, too:

  • Start with a massage or intimate touch
  • Plan time together without family or friends – go on a date!
  • Choose not to have sex tonight and extend the intimacy with the promise of things to come

Don’t stop!

It doesn’t have to be perfect the first time or even every time.

Increase physical activity and stop over-consumption

These are the main preventable cause of erectile dysfunction and sexual dysfunction in women.

Optimize your hormones

Low hormonal levels will reduce your libido.  See your doctor to check that your hormones are within optimal ranges.

Manage stress – stress gets in the way of good sex

Stress management techniques have been shown to improve sexual function and satisfaction.

Try yoga, meditation rhythmic breathing or other relaxation techniques

Stop smoking

Make an appointment to see a health care professional about sex problems

Sex therapy has a high success rate in helping couples solve their sex-related problems through guided discussion and negotiation. There are a number of medical solutions too, apart from the little blue pill!

Last Reviewed 01/Mar/2014

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Dr Merlin Thomas

Professor Merlin Thomas is Professor of Medicine at Melbourne’s Monash University, based in the Department of Diabetes. He is both a physician and a scientist. Merlin has a broader interest in all aspects of preventive medicine and ageing. He has published over 270 articles in many of the worlds’ leading medical journals
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