Sex as We Age

Sex can be part of life well into our later years. While we may face health challenges as we age, we can still continue to enjoy a satisfying sex life.

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 people have vaginal and oral sex, as well as masturbate, 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 people 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.

New Challenges with Aging Bodies

Just as people age so does the body. 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 but there are some experiences that are common as we age:

People with a penis

  • May take longer to achieve an erection, and the erection may be more difficult to maintain
  • Less semen during ejaculation (or no semen)
  • Shorter orgasm

People with a vagina

  • 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.
But just because the affects of aging on the body may make things more difficult, there’s no reason older adults can enjoy pleasurable and satisfying sex lives. Here are a few things to consider:
  • Communicate: This is good advice at any age, of course, but good communication with your partner is important as you age. Our needs and desires can change throughout our lives. Your partner can meet your needs unless you share them. Be explicit! Let your partner know what feels good (and what doesn’t).
  • Explore outercourse: Sex isn’t all about penetration and limiting your thinking to that can limit your pleasure. Explore intimate touch, manual stimulation, mutual masturbation, or erotic massage—intimate ways to connect and experience sexual pleasure without a need to maintain an erection.
  • Don’t forget the lube: Vaginal dryness is common after menopause. A good lubricant is essential to making penetrative sex easier and more pleasurable. A water-based lube is a better choice for sex toys and essential if you are using condoms (as oil-based lubes can break down latex and make latex condoms less effective).
  • Try new positions: Maybe your knees or your back aren’t what they used to be and some sexual positions are no longer comfortable. A wedge pillow (or even a regular bed pillow) can elevate the hips and put less pressure on the lower back, and make deeper penetration possible. Standing positions might also be a more comfortable option.
  • Try some new sex toys: Again, this is good advice for any age, but sex toys can greatly enhance sex as we age. If you’re not sure where to start, you can read some reviews from sex and aging advocate Joan Price, where she highlights features that matter to older adults (like an ergonomic design that is more comfortable for those with arthritis, for example, or easy-to-see controls). While you can choose to shop online in private, Price makes the case for visiting a local shop to benefit from the expertise of staff and see demos. Her article on Senior Planet also shares some stories from older adults on finding the right toy.

Talk to Your Doctor

Sometimes the type of sexual difficulties that we encounter as we age, like erectile dysfunction, can be a sign of an underlying medical condition. This is just one of many reasons to talk to your healthcare provider about any sexual difficulties you might have—they may be a sign of a medical issue that’s been overlooked or undertreated.

Treating the medical issues you know you have can also be an issue—many medications that treat chronic conditions that can have an impact on sexual function. For example, some medications to treat high blood pressure or depression can lower your libido (desire to have sex). Let your provider know about any sexual difficulties so they can determine if medication may play a role and you can look for solutions.

Don’t be afraid to talk with your provider abut your sex life! Unfortunately, many providers don’t bring up the subject with their older patients. Sometimes it’s because they don’t think their patient is still sexually active. They may also lack training on how to have these discussions and might be even be embarrassed to talk about it. There’s nothing for you to be embarrassed about, though. And if your provider won’t and can’t help—find a new provider!

While there are many ways to experience sexual pleasure, as discussed above, you may feel you want to explore treatment options for sexual problems. 

Protect Your Sexual Health

Of course, anyone who is sexually active can get a sexually transmitted infection (STI)—this doesn’t change with age. STIs are more common among younger people, adults over 50 are still at risk. For example, around 1 in 6 HIV diagnoses in 2018 were people aged 50 and older.

You can reduce your risk for HIV and other STIs:

  • Talk about sex with your partner—about your boundaries and ways you plan to make sex safer.
  • Make sure you and your partner get tested (before you start having sex).
  • Use a condom and lubricant every time you have sex. Lubricant is even more important as we age.

Resources on Senior Sex

A Sexual Awakening at 70

Lynn Brown Rosenberg shares her story of sexual exploration, pleasure, and finding herself.

Baby Boomers Not Giving Up on Sex

The same people who sparked and maintained a sexual revolution, are having to reinvent themselves again.

Talking about Sex

No matter how long you and your partner have been together, you will need to keep communicating about your sexual expectations, desires and needs.