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Sexual Health and Aging

Feb 16, 2011

Are men their 70s, 80s, and 90s still sexually active? 

The answer is yes, according to a study published in the December 7, 2010 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Researchers surveyed over 3,000 Australian men between the ages of 75 and 95 who were still living in their communities  (as opposed to living in nursing homes or other healthcare facilities).  They also defined “sexually active” to mean having sex at least once within the last year.

They discovered that about a third of the men were still sexually active at this age.  Of this group, the men appeared to enjoy their sex lives.  Many who were not sexually active did not have a partner or had medical issues that prevented them from having satisfying sex, such as low testosterone, osteoporosis, and prostate cancer.

Sex in later life can be just as satisfying as it was in younger years, but men’s and women’s bodies do change.  Sometimes adjustments are necessary.  For example, older men and women may have chronic pain that makes sex more difficult.  Trying different positions is one remedy.  If one partner has had a stroke, the couple can use medical devices to make sex easier.

Many men worry about erectile dysfunction (ED) as they get older.  ED can be caused by diabetes, heart disease, prostate surgery, and certain medications like antidepressants and blood pressure drugs.  But ED can usually be treated easily with medications, penile implants or injections, or vacuum devices.

Women also experience changes that affect their sex lives as they age.  Many women find that vaginal lubrication decreases after menopause.  However, over-the-counter lubricants or vaginal estrogen prescribed by a doctor can help.  Women with diabetes are prone to more frequent vaginal yeast infections and other women have problems with incontinence, which makes them avoid sex.  But these conditions can be treated, too.

Body image is important to many women, especially as they get older.  They may feel less attractive.  Some women feel less feminine after surgery like a mastectomy, in which a breast is removed.  In addition, it’s sometimes more difficult for women to find suitable partners, since women usually outlive men.

Healthcare providers encourage both men and women looking for partners to stay active and participate in social activities.  Clubs, adult education classes, volunteering, and getting involved the community are all excellent ways to meet new partners.

Getting older does not signal an end to sexuality.  Many couples still want intimacy and enjoy their sexual relationships.  Some find that sex is even better at an older age, when couples have more time to themselves and don’t need to worry about pregnancy.  Almost all obstacles to sex in later years can be overcome. Talking to a healthcare provider is the first step.