Young people may think that older people are no longer interested in sex. I used to think that – didn’t you? But it is not so. Sex can be as healthy and fulfilling as we age as it ever has been. In fact with more experience, fewer social pressures, freedom from guilt, and from worries about pregnancy, mature sexual relationships can be especially gratifying.
Research in human sexuality confirms that sexual interest and activity can continue normally throughout life. Many people in their 80’s & 90’s are still sexually active. Yes, intercourse may be less vigorous and less frequent but it may last longer and be better in quality. The hardiest and healthiest 80 & 90 year olds often have the twinkle in their eye of a fulfilling sexual relationship.
The context of sex can change with age – and for the better. Wisdom, tenderness, patience and history – the stuff that makes up mature emotion and genuine love – enrich sexual expression.
As a doctor, I find that the fear of reduced sexual ability with age is often a paper tiger. My mature patients may complain that their sexual response isn’t what it used to be but in fact it is still quite normal. In fact the biggest stumbling block to continued sexual enjoyment isn’t loss of sexual response or ill health but lack of a suitable partner. Sexual isolation frustrates widows, widowers, singles and people whose marriage partner is not interested in sex.
Reciprocity is a keynote of satisfying relationships. Having a willing and caring partner is more important than measures of performance as we grow older. As long as neither partner demands youthful zest, or watches the clock, love-making can remain satisfying and life-affirming regardless of age.
To those people who fear they’ll lose their ability as they grow older, I have three words of advice: don’t stop now. There is truth to the slogan “Use it or lose it.” People who want to remain sexually active into a ripe old age should avoid periods of sexual abstinence of six months or more. The reason is sexual stimulation stimulates secretion of sex hormones, which in turn maintains or increases the sex drive. This holds true for both men and women.
Good health is not an absolute prerequisite of a good sex life but it is a big help. If a man is out of shape and perhaps suffers from a health problem or two he may feel and therefore become less virile. Putting on weight can make a woman feel less sexually attractive too. Losing weight and regular exercise can be a tremendous boost to the libido in such cases. Whatever the age, body confidence is often echoed in sexual confidence. And it works the other way around too. How many time have you seen friends fall in love, proceed to lose weight and look like a million again?
There are physiological reasons for lowered sexual interest too. In men, erection may take longer to achieve. For both men and women orgasms may become less intense with age. Fortunately most mature individuals adjust to these facts of life. They relax and enjoy.
Medication can also meddle with sexual functioning. Mood altering drugs including antidepressants and tranquillizers can reduce sexual desire. The same is true for some medications prescribed for high blood pressure. Occasionally, switching to another medication or lowering the dose, if possible, can alleviate the problem. Weight loss and regular exercise can sometimes reduce the need for blood pressure medicines. Don’t go off any of your medicines without your doctor’s okay, of course. Check with your doctor after you lose weight – your medication dose can perhaps be lowered at that point.
For most mature individuals, however, sexual interest and ability need not suffer significantly just because a birthday or two has rolled by. Take heart. Today’s older Americans seem to be growing younger and lustier at heart!
Adapted from The Palm Beach Long-Life Diet by E Joan Barice, MD with Kathleen Jonah, 1985.
Information shared here is not intended as medical advice, and cannot substitute for professional medical advice and information. Information provided is general in nature and may be helpful to some people but not others, depending on their personal medical needs. Always consult with your personal physician before changing or undertaking a new exercise program or following advice designed for general audiences only. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay getting care because of something you have read here.