Sex as We Age
Sex doesn’t stop at 50 (or 60, or 80 for that matter). But the recognition that older adults are sexual beings often does.
A survey of adults ages 57 to 85 in the U.S. found that the majority of older adults were involved in intimate relationships and considered sexuality to be an important part of life. While the study revealed that sexual activity does decline with age, it also showed that a large number of men and women engage in vaginal and oral sex, as well as masturbation well into their 60s, 70s and 80s.
So older adults are still sexually active, even when facing other health issues or sexual difficulties that may come with age. One thing that does get in the way is the lack of a sexual partner. But for women and men with partners, when age does influence sexual inactivity, it is more often because of a physical issue or health concern—whether one’s own or a partner’s—rather than a lack of interest.
Sexual Health Needs
Despite the fact that adults over 50 are having sex, many providers are not talking to their older patients about sexual health. Research shows that most healthcare providers don’t bring up the subject of sexual health with older patients, either because of a lack of training or discomfort with the topic. Patients also cite embarrassment, especially if the provider is significantly younger and/or the opposite sex.
Given the number of chronic health conditions—and medications to treat them—that can have an impact on sexual function, a sexual health assessment should be a routine part of any provider visit. Encouraging patients and providers to discuss sexual health could lead to a diagnosis of underlying health conditions that are not directly related to sex.
Growing older is a natural and exciting part of life. Just as people age so does the body. Being mindful of the natural changes your body goes through is an important part of learning how to promote your sexual health and the sexual health of your partner.
Natural changes in the body can mean different things for how to protect yourself. Understanding the changes your body is going through can help you have a healthy sex life as you age. Keep in mind that everyone’s body is different and may age differently:
- Delayed erection
- Less semen
- Shorter orgasm
- Less estrogen can lead to vaginal dryness, which may make intercourse uncomfortable or painful.
- Can be less easily aroused, and may be less sensitive to touching and stroking, which can result in decreased interest in sex.
While women leave their reproductive years once they experience menopause, men’s reproductive years never end. Men continue to produce sperm (in lesser amounts) as they grow older. So men with younger partners who have not yet gone through menopause must still talk about pregnancy and contraception.
But what about after menopause (or after a vasectomy or sterilation procedure)? Once pregnancy is no longer a concern? Why should women and men still use condoms during sex even if they don’t need to worry about pregnancy? Because they are still able to get sexually transmitted diseases or infections (STDs/STIs). Your risk of contracting STDs/STIs is a possibility at any point in your life during which you are sexually active, and this risk does not go down with age.
According to the CDC, people aged 50 and older accounted for:
- 15% of new HIV/AIDS diagnoses (People 50 years or older are getting HIV faster than people under 40 years)
- 24% of persons living with HIV/AIDS (increased from 17% in 2001)
- In addition, chlamydia, genital herpes, genital warts, gonorrhea and syphilis among older people have nearly doubled from 1996 to 2003.
You can reduce your risk for HIV and other STDs/STIs:
- Limit your number of sexual partners. The more partners you have, the more likely you are to get an STD/STI.
- Practice monogamy. This means having sex with only one person. That person must also have sex with only you to reduce your risk.
- Make sure you and your partner get tested (before you start having sex).
- Use a condom and lubricant every time you have sex.
- If you think you may have been exposed to an STD/STI, get treatment.
- Do not have sex when you are taking drugs or drinking alcohol because being high can make you more likely to take risks.