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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Can Good Sex Keep You Young?

Sex and Seniors continued...

While men may experience a gradual decline in sexual libido as their testosterone levels slowly diminish, women experience a wider range of effects as a result of the more complex hormonal changes that occur with menopause. Some, like Eileen Smith, 70, a nurse in Laguna Beach, Calif., experience no decrease in sexual desire through the years, although she attributes that to the fact that she began hormone replacement therapy at the first sign of hot flashes. "In my own case, intensity of desire was not tied to menopause," she says, "but rather to the quality of the relationships I was having at different times in my life." The mother of two and grandmother of four, she said that years after her divorce, when she was "crazy in love" at age 60, she experienced sexuality "as hot as ever."

Other women may respond to the lower testosterone levels that sometimes occur after menopause with a decrease in desire. Judith Gerberg, MA, a career counselor and president of the Career Counselors' Consortium in New York, found that a hysterectomy 10 years ago left her totally depressed and disinterested in sex or anything else. Despite treatment with estrogen, her apathy continued. She did not give up on finding a solution and kept consulting physicians until she found one who was an early proponent of the use of small doses of testosterone to restore sexuality in middle-aged women.

When she began taking Estratest, a combination of estrogen and testosterone, all aspects of her sexual functioning returned. "I was sexy as ever," she says. "Joy returned. I was energized. I stopped worrying all the time." In her work as a career counselor, she now advocates that women suffering similar problems explore hormone therapy with their gynecologists.

Use It or Lose It

For both men and women, the best way to maintain sexuality in later years is never to stop making love. "The vagina is one organ where use makes a difference," says Susan Love, MD, in Dr. Susan Love's Hormone Book. "Sexual exercise -- either masturbating or having sex with a partner -- will increase your natural lubrication." Men, too, may find that arousal comes more easily when sexual activity is maintained regularly, although the normal sexual diminution that comes in their 70s and beyond may require some adjustment and variation.

My friend Peter Kranz explains his method. "We make love twice every day, but I don't finish twice a day, just once. We go to bed around 11 p.m. After a few hours sleep, I wake my wife up, and we have intercourse for 20 or 30 minutes. Then we go back to sleep till the alarm goes off in the morning. We make love again upon awakening, and then I generally do finish off."

And one of Roizen's enthusiastic correspondents, 87-year-old Joe, who had sex regularly until his wife died at age 83, gives his sexual recipe. "This year I met a 56-year-old lady full of energy who had never married," he says. "Since I lost my erection in my 70s, I am able to excite her with my hand and by oral sex." Joe adds that until her relationship with him, she had been in a physical "cocoon," due to lack of sex. But after two months, "She came out of the cocoon ... and her juices started flowing."

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