Are you wondering if you’ll be able to enjoy sex as you age? Studies tell us that seniors can, in fact, continue to enjoy sex into their 60s, 70s, and beyond. Next time you see a senior couple holding hands, wonder no longer–they may be having more sex than you do. After all, they have fewer responsibilities, more time, and greater experience than young adults, who may look great but complain of stress and fatigue.
However, while mature adults are definitely interested in sex, they do face challenges. The primary challenge is, unfortunately, the lack of a sexual partner. Even when couples are married, one partner may decide that sex is undignified past a certain age. A partner may also have physical limitations that get in the way of enjoyable sex.
In fact, physical challenges are the second most common reason that older adults stop having sex. Heart disease, diabetes, and cancer may affect a person’s ability to function sexually. For example, women with diabetes may complain of lack of sensation. Men with prostate cancer who have surgery are at risk for experiencing impotence. Cancer can cause fatigue, not to mention depression or issues related to body image.
Lesser problems can also impede enjoyment. One such instance is when a partner is using medication to manage pain. The medicine may work well at stopping pain, but the partner may also be drowsy at times.
In addition, women who are in menopause (12 months without any menstrual period) may find that they need more stimulation to experience orgasm due to decreases in testosterone. They may also experience changes to the vagina, including dryness and pain with intercourse, often due to the thinning of the vaginal walls. Women who are afraid of hormone therapy may be heartened to learn that there are low estrogen preparations that can be used locally in the vagina to help facilitate sexual activity.
Men also experience changes. Of course, men have FDA-approved medications to help with erectile function. But many men would do themselves and their partners a service if they were to be more assertive about their sexual needs. They can let their partner know, for example, that they need stronger stimulation or longer foreplay in order to perform.
There are remedies for all of these challenges. One is overcoming the myth that the “gold standard” for sex is intercourse. This is unfortunate. More seniors would be able to say they “had sex” if they broadened their ideas to include touching, caressing, mutual pleasuring (masturbation), sharing fantasies, and having warm verbal exchanges.
The physical challenges can also be addressed with the help of a compassionate, knowledgeable physician and/or sex therapist. Many physicians today know that seniors are more interested in maintaining a sexual connection with the partner. They can advise seniors how to adapt to being sexual as they change with age. For example, the time someone takes medication can be adjusted so that both partners can be awake for sex at the same time. Positions can also be modified, sometimes with the help of a physical therapist’s input. Physicians can also discuss remedies for erectile dysfunction, or refer to an appropriate specialist.
What can a sex therapist do for a couple that is aging but wants to stay sexually active? First, the therapist can help the couple identify the obstacle to pleasure. Next, they can suggest touching and massage exercises to reinvigorate desire. They can also help the couple mourn the sex of their youth, and embrace new ways of being together. A sex therapist can help a couple see and explore the meaning of sexuality in a committed relationship.
Sex doesn’t have to end at a certain age, and it doesn’t have to look a certain way, either. If you are a mature adult still interested in sex, but worried that you may not be able to participate, talk to someone. You have no idea what your sexual potential is for pleasure until you try.
Stephanie Buehler, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist, relationship expert, and certified sex therapist. She is the Director of The Buehler Institute, where she works with men, women, and couples who want to experience greater intimacy, in and out of the bedroom. Visit her website to access her blog, sign up for her ezine, or learn more about how sex and relationship therapy can help.