Sexuality and intimacy are two subjects people rarely associate with older people. This stigma stems from the notion that as people age, they start losing interest in them. Thus, seniors who do show an interest in sex are called derogatory names and viewed as improper.
The truth is, age doesn’t matter when it comes to sexuality. While the ability to perform sexual activities may decline along with physical changes brought by aging, many seniors are still enthusiastic about sex.
In this article, readers will be able to dispel misconceptions about seniors and sexuality, learn about the normal sexuality changes as people age, how to deal with them, and how to regain one’s sexuality even after 60.
Aging can cause normal physical changes that affect how people do sex, especially in their sexual organs. Senior men may find themselves having difficulty with getting and keeping an erection.
On the other hand, older women may notice narrowing and dryness in their vaginas. Menopause is also another factor that affects sexual desire.
According to HealthinAging.org, other factors that affect sex life in senior women include the following:
Despite these changes, it remains possible for seniors to show interest and engage in sexual activities. A recent report suggested that many women remain sexually active into their 70s. Around 43% still engage in sexual activities, whether intercourse, masturbation, or caressing. The rest of them are limited by age-related issues.
Another 2019 survey shows that sexual activity is essential for those over 60. In fact, 70% of the senior respondents consider themselves sexually attractive.
Seniors may experience newfound freedom to express themselves sexually after 50. For women, not having to worry about becoming pregnant is one reason. Chances are, seniors will have become more aware of what pleases them and their partners too.
But it’s no news how physical changes that come with aging greatly affect one’s sexual experience, especially among women. Below are some issues that occur in most people over 60.
About half of the women ages 57 to 73 had sex less than twice a month several years prior to a 2021 Harvard Health report. Different factors can cause this decline in sexual drive, yet menopause seems to be one of the major culprits.
Menopause occurs in women usually between the ages of 45 to 55, but it can come earlier for some. Other women also experience this due to prior surgeries involving removal of the ovaries or uterus and undergoing cancer treatments.
Menopause marks a huge milestone in a woman’s life. But it also comes with uncomfortable changes that inhibit her sexuality.
A few women have experienced increased libido after menopause without the worry of unwanted pregnancy and with most of their children already out of the home.
However, the majority notice having a lesser interest in sex than they did before this life change. With menopause, women experience a nosedive in estrogen levels and experience a variety of symptoms that significantly impact their sexual desire.
The decrease in estrogen and progesterone levels—produced by the ovaries before menopause—also causes various symptoms that cause discomfort during sex. Vaginal dryness can cause intercourse to be a painful experience, which may lower the motivation to have sex while not necessarily the sexual drive.
Women reportedly experience twice as many bouts of depression as men. This usually occurs during major life changes, such as puberty, pregnancy and childbirth, and menopause.
There is still conflicting research around depression and its direct relation to menopause. However, hormone fluctuations and body image concerns are all possible causes of emotional distress among women undergoing menopause.
While aging can cause barriers to sexuality, it does not diminish one’s intimacy with their partner. Being intimate with a loved one contributes to a happy and healthy relationship, whether through emotional (e.g., shared experiences) or physical means (e.g., cuddling, sexual intercourse).
In turn, it also provides several health benefits, especially for older adults:
Like younger people, older adults can also experience their fair share of sexual health issues due to their age.
Vaginal dryness increases a menopausal woman’s chances of catching a sexually transmitted disease (STD), particularly AIDS caused by HIV. With less lubrication in the vagina, friction during sex can easily cause tearing and abrasions. Without proper hygiene, an infection may occur.
Since postmenopausal women do not worry about getting pregnant anymore, they’re less likely to use condoms during intercourse. This further exacerbates the risk of catching HIV and other STDs.
Many senior adults think they are not as equally at risk for AIDS as the younger demographic. This may come from the notion that they have not been as sexually active. However, HIV does not choose its victim. People of any age can become infected by HIV, especially when they are sexually active.
Older people are more at risk of getting infected with HIV with their already weakening immune system. Getting the disease makes them even more susceptible to all kinds of health problems and serious diseases like cancer.
Seniors are not exempted from STDs, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and hepatitis A and B. In fact, a 2020 report showed a historic high increase in STI rates among older Americans. This increase in STDs among seniors can cause an alarming array of health concerns, such as heart disease and cancer.
Around 23 percent of women experience mood swings as they go through menopause, with irritability being their main emotional concern. This rollercoaster of emotions that happens to many senior women can affect how they view themselves sexually, as well as their attitudes toward sexual activities.
Aging can be a sensitive topic for many older adults, especially women undergoing menopause. While some handle this significant milestone with grace, others cannot take the end of their childbearing days lightly. Add to that the physical changes that lead to low self-esteem and confidence.
Many factors lead to sexual issues among older adults. These can be categorized into four primary categories: illnesses, disabilities, medications, and surgeries.
Illnesses, like diabetes and heart disease, are some of the common causes of sexual problems. Diabetes can also cause sexual problems. When left uncontrolled, blood sugar levels can spike and cause a burning sensation and itching in the genital area. These symptoms can develop into a yeast infection that causes discomfort during sex.
Seniors with heart disease often experience erectile dysfunction (ED), as their illness causes a decrease in blood flow to the genital areas. Fear of a heart attack is also common among this demographic, which causes them to dispel the thought of having sex altogether.
Chronic illnesses, lifestyle, and other factors can lead to frailty among the elderly, which greatly impacts their sexual desire and performance. Disability can come from different types, including the following:
For instance, arthritis can cause body stiffness, making sex uncomfortable or even painful for seniors. Chronic pain makes intercourse and foreplay more difficult as the body cannot function as it used to.
Allergy medications, antidepressants, and hypertension (high blood pressure) treatments can affect sexual health. In addition, allergy drugs and sleep aids, appetite suppressants, cancer, and ulcer medications may negatively affect one’s sex life.
Suppose an older adult struggles with difficulty feeling aroused, has lost a desire for sex, or doesn’t feel any lubrication in their vaginal area. In that case, a healthcare professional can provide another possible solution.
Any invasive procedure can temporarily hamper a woman’s intimate life, especially surgeries like mastectomy and hysterectomy.
Mastectomy, which is often used to treat breast cancer patients, is the partial or total removal of the breast tissue, lymph nodes, areola, and nipple. On the other hand, hysterectomy has been linked to an increased risk of depression and anxiety.
Having a sexual or reproductive organ removed can contribute to disinterest or dissatisfaction with sex and intimacy, especially for seniors.
Although older adults experience different forms of sexual conditions, they shouldn’t be a hindrance to a healthy intimate life. There are solutions, whether their sexual problems stem from hormonal changes or other reasons.
As women age or go through menopause, hormone changes cause the vaginal walls to produce less lubrication resulting in vaginal dryness.
As this hampers their sexual life, older women can use lubricants to make sex more comfortable. Lubricants come in different types: water-based, silicone-based, and oil-based. Water-based lubricants are the safest option for intercourse and masturbation, while silicone-based ones are longer lasting.
Some women also try estrogen therapy via creams, pills, or an estrogen-releasing ring, to address dryness in the vagina.
For some women, estrogen treatment can alleviate vaginal burning and lessen pain during intercourse. Topical estrogen creams help heighten the senses in the clitoral region for senior women.
Another natural, unique approach is applying different degrees of touch to the body. Senior women can start exploring how their body responds to light and heavy pressure by using their hands or different sex toys. They can also let their partner participate in this activity to get constructive feedback.
Seniors may experience reduced sexual desire, finding it more difficult to reach orgasm as they age. Such problems are usually treated with self-stimulation and psychological therapies.
Doctors may suggest experimenting with other sexual stimuli, such as role-playing, videos, pictures, vibrators, and fantasies. Older women may also be advised to learn more about their bodies and explore ways to arouse themselves. Stimulation of the clitoris is often all that is needed to achieve this.
Fatigue often stems from a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle. Older men and women need to alleviate their exhaustion to boost their sexual desire and performance.
Chronic tiredness is difficult to overcome but not impossible. Aside from switching to a healthier lifestyle with proper diet and exercise, seniors can also try the following remedies:
Maintaining a healthy sexual life can be challenging for seniors, but it may be easier to achieve with the right tips and medical interventions.
Healthy talks with their partners may help seniors solve their sexual issues. But this is often easier said than done. Feelings of self-consciousness and defensiveness may arise, which may result in avoidance. To achieve resolution, they may want to consult a third party, such as a counselor or therapist, to help with discussions about sex.
One’s sexual problems may come from underlying physical conditions. Therefore, medical intervention should be considered. Seniors can talk to a doctor or a nutritionist about diets, medications, or exercises.
Some women even try the Kegel routines, which require clenching vaginal muscles to improve their function. To try this, practice while urinating and stop the urine from flowing through those muscles. Regular tests and general physicals are also important.
There is no simple hormone test that diagnoses perimenopause for women. Hormone levels change throughout one’s menstrual cycle, making hormone tests unreliable.
Salivary hormone level tests may be considered, but they are inaccurate and should not be used to assess menopause symptoms.
Salivary hormone level tests may be considered, but they are inaccurate and should not be used to assess menopause symptoms.
The bottom line is that women shouinsa mld consider getting a comprehensive medical examination once they suspect they have already reached menopause.
Regular well-woman checkups are essential in maintaining good sexual health, especially once a woman reaches menopause. During these examinations, a doctor will review their medical history, watch out for significant signs and symptoms, and prescribe appropriate treatment and medications.
The Center for Disease Control says women ages 13–64 should test for HIV at least once. Individuals who have had sex with more than one partner may need to renew their test after six months with a new person.
The most common STD tests are for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomonas. Testing for STDs often happens simultaneously when one receives a pap smear, which tests a woman for cervical cancer.
During an STD test, the cervix or vaginal wall is swabbed, but the sample may also be taken from the mouth or the rectum. During a well-woman exam, women are also advised to get a blood test to detect syphilis or hepatitis B and C, which are common STDs that may dampen a person’s sexual life.
Seniors may not think they are at risk when having sex. However, individuals can catch sexually transmitted infections (STIs) even if two people know each other and don’t have sex often.
STDs or STIs are acquired through sexual contact but may pass from person to person via blood, semen, and other bodily fluids.
An older adult with STI may or may not develop symptoms, which is why seniors must get themselves checked by a healthcare professional regularly. An STI that goes unnoticed and untreated may become more severe in the future.
Aside from getting regular checkups, seniors must practice the following prevention tips:
Condoms are 98% effective in preventing pregnancy and STIs during sexual intercourse. External condoms, sometimes called male condoms, are made with very thin latex designed to keep semen from coming into contact with one’s sexual partner.
Those who are allergic to latex can try using a plastic condom made with polyurethane or polyisoprene. Beware of lambskin condoms, though, as they are too porous and are not as effective at safeguarding a person from STIs.
Vaccines are effective in preventing STIs like hepatitis B and HPV. However, HPV vaccination is only recommended for people ages 11 or 12 through 26. Some doctors may recommend it to adults ages 27 through 45, but only if they are at risk for new HPV infections.
On the other hand, older adults aged 60 and older can also get vaccinated for hepatitis B, especially if they have risk factors for such infection.
Having multiple sex partners increases one’s risk for STIs. Aside from reducing the number of partners, it’s recommended for all parties to get tested and share their results with each other.
Being sexually active with only one person helps decrease one’s risk for STIs. However, it’s also important for their partner to agree to this mutual monogamy. The most reliable way to prevent an infection is to be in a long-term monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner.
The most effective way to prevent an STI is to not have sex—be it anal, oral, or vaginal.
Aging can seem scary for women, especially as they undergo major physical and psychological changes. For those who feel apprehensive about their sexual health or their intimate life, it’s always best to seek professional help.