Sexuality in Later Life
Introduction to senior sex
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 with age?
Normal aging brings physical changes in both men and women. These changes sometimes affect the ability to have and enjoy sex. A woman may notice changes in her vagina. As a woman ages, her vagina can shorten and narrow. Her vaginal walls can become thinner and also a little stiffer. Most women will have less vaginal lubrication. These changes could affect sexual function and/or pleasure. Talk with your doctor about these problems.
As men get older, impotence (also called erectile dysfunction - ED) becomes more common. ED is the loss of ability to have and keep an erection for sexual intercourse. ED may cause a man to take longer to have an erection. His erection may not be as firm or as large as it used to be. The loss of erection after orgasm may happen more quickly, or it may take longer before another erection is possible. ED is not a problem if it happens every now and then, but if it occurs often, talk with your doctor.
What causes sexual problems as we age?
Some illnesses, disabilities, medicines, and surgeries can affect your ability to have and enjoy sex. Problems in your relationship can also affect your ability to enjoy sex.
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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Senior Sex - Emotions
Question: In what ways have emotions affected your sex life as you've aged?
Senior Sex - Improvement
Question: How have you and/or your partner worked to improve your sex life as you age?
Senior Sex - Safe Sex
Question: If you're a sexually active senior, how do you practice safe sex?
Senior Sex - Experience
Question: Have you found your sex drive has decreased as you have aged?