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Sex and Aging

People seem to want and need to be close to others. As we grow older, many of us also want to continue an active, satisfying sex life. But the aging process may cause some changes.

What Are Normal Changes?

Normal aging brings physical changes in both men and women. These changes sometimes affect one's ability to have and enjoy sex with another person. Some women enjoy sex more as they grow older. After menopause or a hysterectomy, they may no longer fear an unwanted pregnancy. They may feel freer to enjoy sex.

Some women do not think things like gray hair and wrinkles make them less attractive to their sexual partner. But if a woman believes that looking young or being able to give birth makes her more feminine, she may begin to worry about how desirable she is no matter what her age is. That might make sex less enjoyable for her.

A woman may notice changes in her vagina. As she ages, her vagina shortens and narrows. The walls become thinner and also a little stiffer. These changes do not mean she can't enjoy having sex. However, most women will also have less vaginal lubrication. This could affect sexual pleasure.

As men get older, impotence becomes more common. Impotence is the loss of ability to have and keep an erection hard enough for sexual intercourse. By age 65, about 15 to 25% of men have this problem at least one out of every four times they are having sex. This may happen in men with heart disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes-either because of the disease or the medicines used to treat it.

A man may find it takes longer to get an erection. His erection may not be as firm or as large as it used to be. The amount of ejaculate may be smaller. The loss of erection after orgasm may happen more quickly, or it may take longer before an erection is again possible. Some men may find they need more foreplay.

What Causes Sexual Problems?

Illness, disability, or the drugs you take to treat a health problem can affect your ability to have and enjoy sex. But, even the most serious health problems usually don't have to stop you from having a satisfying sex life.

Arthritis. Joint pain due to arthritis can make sexual contact uncomfortable. Joint replacement surgery and drugs may relieve this pain. Exercise, rest, warm baths, and changing the position or timing of sexual activity can be helpful.

Chronic pain. In addition to arthritis, pain that continues for more than a month or comes back on and off over time can be caused by other bone and muscle conditions, shingles, poor blood circulation, or blood vessel problems. This discomfort can, in turn, lead to sleep problems, depression, isolation, and difficulty moving around. These can interfere with intimacy between older people. Chronic pain does not have to be part of growing older and can often be treated.

WebMD Public Information from the U.S. National Institutes of Health

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