Sexuality in Later Life
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
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
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.
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.