Sex and Aging: Easy Ways to Solve Common Problems

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on July 28, 2016
4 min read

Worried that your sex life will take a hit as you age -- or worse, that it might go away forever? Don’t be.

Doctors say the secrets to a happy love life are simple. Keep an open mind, and find clever ways to adapt to the challenges, like these, that often come with getting older:

You Have Erectile Dysfunction (ED): It’s one of the most common problems, says Lynn McNicoll, MD, associate professor at Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University. It happens when there isn’t enough blood flow for your penis to get hard. Or when the veins that normally drain blood from it can’t close up to keep the blood in -- and keep it erect.

ED can happen to any man. But if you have health issues related to aging, like heart disease, a stroke, or diabetes, you’re more likely to have it.

At least four meds on the market right now may help. But only if you have some ability to get an erection, McNicoll says. If you can’t, your doctor will look to other options like a pump or implant to help create an erection. It’s rare, but some men have a surgery to boost blood flow to the penis.

Your Meds Drain Your Drive: Drugs like antidepressants, high blood pressure meds, and anticoagulants can put a damper on your sex life. Don’t change or stop taking meds on your own, though. Your first step is to ask your doctor if what you take could be to blame. They might switch out the one that’s causing the problem.

Your Health Issues Get in the Way: Other things can make sex tricky as you age. Vision and hearing -- which often carry sexual cues -- can fade. Chronic diseases like arthritis and Parkinson’s can tire you out and limit movement or make sex painful. You can try different positions, head to the bedroom at the time of day your joints bother you the least, and take a warm bath or shower first to loosen up your body.

Major surgery will bring things to a halt, at least for a while. Wait until your doctor tells you it’s OK to have sex again -- and you feel up to it -- before you head off to bed.

Menopause -- which usually starts between 45 and 55 -- can cause vaginal dryness and thinning. That make sex painful. Medications and over-the-counter lubricants and even lubricated condoms often help -- and so can more sex. Desire can plummet along with your hormone levels. Talk to your doctor about the medications you take. They could be to blame.

“Incontinence that older people are likely to have also is embarrassing,” McNicoll says. “One strategy is to go [to the bathroom] before you have sex.”

If you’re a woman who has trouble having an orgasm, your doctor might prescribe ED drugs. But that’s usually a last resort. They’ll probably start by adjusting any meds that make it hard for you to get in the mood.

Your Body Has Changed: As you age, it’s normal to become more insecure about how you look and appear to your partner. You might try having sex in the dark to make you feel less self-conscious about your body.

You’ve Lost Your Partner: The death of a spouse or partner instantly halts your sex life. But over time, you might become interested in dating or spending time with a special someone again.

It’s good to stay open minded about finding potential partners. It’s a little easier for men, McNicoll says. There are fewer single, widowed, or divorced men, out there. “I encourage my patients to use their contacts” to meet new people, she says. You might also try the Internet. Even nursing homes are becoming open to the times, she says. Some offer privacy for dating and sex.

You’re Worried How Others Will React: This isn’t a new problem. For years grandparents have had to listen to the younger set say “eeeew” when the topic comes up. And as Baby Boomers, age, we’re seeing the first large group of openly LGBT -- lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender -- people get older. New issues are coming to light, says McNicoll, who’s seen older people go back into the closet over worries of backlash tied to their sexual identity. The good news is that a growing number of groups are there to help. Check out the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging, for starters.

Your Definition of Sex Is Narrow: Many people just don’t feel the need for lovemaking as they age. But you can still feel sexy and enjoy intimacy in other ways:

  • Hold hands, caress, and massage each other.
  • Explore new non-sexual activities, like cooking, playing games, or travel.

You Haven’t Thought About the Perks: Growing older can bring some plusses to your intimate life:

  • A slower lifestyle lets you make your partner a higher priority.
  • You have more free time to hash out changes both of you are experiencing and work on them.
  • You can spend more time touching, which can be helpful to get fully aroused.
  • When sex is no longer the goal, masturbation -- alone or with a partner - can become more satisfying.

You’re worried about safety. You might not think safe sex is an issue for older people. In fact, the numbers of senior citizens with HIV is on the rise. So are cases of STDs like chlamydia, herpes, and hepatitis B among seniors.

Even if you have the same partner, it’s important to know if they've had any other sexual partners. Always use a condom, McNicoll says.