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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Sexuality in Later Life

What Causes Sexual Problems? continued...

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.

Diabetes. Many men with diabetes do not have sexual problems, but this is one of the few illnesses that can cause impotence. In most cases medical treatment can help.

Heart disease. Narrowing and hardening of the arteries known as atherosclerosis can change blood vessels so that blood does not flow freely. This can lead to trouble with erections in men, as can high blood pressure (hypertension). Some people who have had a heart attack are afraid that having sex will cause another attack. The chance of this is very low. Most people can start having sex again 3 to 6 weeks after their condition becomes stable following an attack, if their doctor agrees. Always follow your doctor's advice.

Incontinence. Loss of bladder control or leaking of urine is more common as we grow older, especially in women. Stress incontinence happens during exercise, coughing, sneezing, or lifting, for example. Because of the extra pressure on your abdomen during sex, incontinence might cause some people to avoid sex. The good news is that this can usually be treated.

Stroke. The ability to have sex is rarely damaged by a stroke, but problems with erections are possible. It is unlikely that having sex will cause another stroke. Someone with weakness or paralysis caused by a stroke might try using different positions or medical devices to help them continue having sex.

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