Sex in the Senior Years

Getting older can bring new sexual challenges -- as well as new pleasures.

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on January 02, 2013
2 min read

During the last two decades, several studies have left little doubt that seniors have sex well into their 60s, 70s, and beyond. But what quantitative studies don't always show is what senior sex is like -- including its pleasures and problems.

Take the case of a couple I counseled recently. Both were in their 70s, and both were worried about their sex life. The problem? The wife wanted to have sex more often than the husband. As a result, she feared that her spouse no longer found her attractive, and he felt bad about his low libido as well as his short-lived erections and inability to satisfy his wife’s desires.

Such physical and psychological problems in relation to sex are not all that unusual among seniors.

Certain medications, such as those used to treat high blood pressure and depression, can reduce libido. So, too, can declining levels of testosterone in both men and women. Nerve damage caused by diabetes and other conditions can impair a man’s ability to get and sustain an erection. And low levels of estrogen can thin and dry a woman’s vaginal tissues, making intercourse uncomfortable.

On the emotional front, long-simmering relationship difficulties may dampen desire, as can shame about an aging body. And either partner can suffer a dramatic blow to his or her sex life if the other partner is incapacitated by illness or injury.

Many problems that affect senior sexuality can be treated. But studies show most seniors don’t talk about sex with their doctors, perhaps because they were raised to believe such talk is taboo.

It’s important to get help if you need it, however. Regular sex keeps circulation flowing to the genitals (which in itself boosts pleasure). It also helps couples survive the ups and downs of long-term relationships.

In the case of the elderly couple I counseled, the man saw a doctor, who gave him testosterone supplements to increase his libido. I also coached the couple on ways to enjoy sex without intercourse, including oral sex and other forms of foreplay, so the man could free himself of some of his performance anxiety.

Last I heard, my septuagenarian patients were sexually happy and healthy -- and enjoying new modes of intimacy.

Ask your doctor if your problem has a medical cause -- and a solution.

Use lubricant to help with vaginal dryness.

Experiment with masturbation to satisfy unfulfilled desire.

Kick things off with foreplay. Older men need more touching to get an erection, and older women need more touching to get lubricated.