Sex is a major part of our lives that must be nurtured as we grow older. Those of us hoping to improve our sex lives can adopt a number of short-term approaches. Although many are effective temporarily, they are rarely slow solutions. There are, however, various ‘slow’ and simple principles that we can adopt to improve our sex lives and, with them, our health.

Understanding and engagement

Sex on ‘autopilot’, emotionally disconnected and disengaged from our partner, is a lesser experience, just as ‘fast’ lives are often wasted. Take the time to slow down and enjoy the ride. Learn when your body begins to feel excited and what it takes to make you feel satisfied. It’s also important to be aware of the things that get in the way of sex. Problems with sex (sexual dysfunction) are more common as we age, but they are not an inevitable consequence of aging, in the same way that getting heart disease and cancer are not givens. Similarly, we can help to prevent sexual dysfunction by the actions we take today.

Erectile dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction is the most common sexual problem in aging men and one of the main reasons women say they stop having sex. A man’s inability to maintain an erection can be the result of many factors.  Coordinated function among nerves and blood vessels and the right stimuli are always required to get it up. If any or all of the necessary components aren’t functioning optimally, an erection will fail.

Aging, along with many of its associated diseases and the drugs used to treat them, may cause erectile dysfunction. It has been estimated that more than 50% of men with diabetes have difficulty achieving erections. So one of the most effective ways to avoid problems with our penises tomorrow is to do all we can to prevent diabetes and other age-related diseases today.

Reduced levels of desire and arousal

Reduced levels of desire and arousal are the most common sexual issues for aging women. These problems are usually the result of complex changes in body chemistry, particularly sex hormones, as well as barriers to sexual enjoyment and relaxation, including stress, anxiety and, in some cases, our partner’s sexual dysfunction.

Its management therefore usually involves modulating both chemistry and behavior. For example, DHEA may be useful in restoring testosterone levels and libido, and is most successful when combined with strategies to improve emotional closeness and communication.

As women age, we experience another pitfall: our failing ability to reach climax. There have been many books written on the female orgasm, but little is known about what stops it being triggered in some women. Consequently, there are no simple pills we can take to prevent this problem.

In many cases, older women must develop a different relationship with their bodies and partners. The best protection against losing the ability to climax appears to be frequent good sex. Increased intensity and duration of genital stimulation, particularly of the clitoris, can also enhance our ability to experience more rapid arousal and stronger orgasms.

Last Reviewed 02/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