Sexuality Later in Life

Published January 19, 2009 by Patty Brisben

Like a fine bottle of wine, I truly believe in the adage that we get better and wiser with age. It’s too bad that there isn’t the same understanding that it’s normal to remain interested in sexuality as we age. Society has generally not accepted the fact that older adults are sexual beings; in fact, sexuality in later life has been viewed as taboo in the past – with the notion that when we hit forty or fifty, we should no longer be interested in sexual pleasure. However, through my experiences I know that people are sexual well into later life; some studies have even shown that people in their eighties and nineties are still intimate with their partners! Although aging can have a profound affect on sexuality and intimacy, it is important to understand those changes and know what can be done to maintain them as you get older.

Older adults are still sexual into the later years of their life, but their sexuality is typically affected by aging in some aspect. Aging can affect men and women in many different ways. Some older adults feel the societal pressures to not be sexual and adjust their intimacy according to these views.
Many of the sexuality changes experienced in later life are due to health issues more than aging. Cardiovascular problems, chronic pain or arthritis, diabetes, and dementia can all interfere with a person’s sexuality and intimacy. A decline in hormones in both men and women can cause changes in a person’s sexuality. There are certain changes that affect only men or women as they age:

Women

  • Vaginal lubrication decreases
  • A decrease in libido or sex drive
  • Rapid decrease in arousal after orgasm
  • Loss of elasticity in the vaginal tissues
  • Changes to the shape, size, and color of the vulva and vagina
  • Thinning of the vaginal tissues

Men

  • Changes in erection: slower, less full, may not last as long, disappears quickly after orgasm, longer time between erections
  • Less sperm volume
  • Loss of ability to detect ejaculation

I think it is necessary for older adults interested in maintaining “the spice” in their relationship to re-evaluate their definition of intimacy; being intimate does not necessarily mean being sexual. Holding hands, cuddling, or talking can help a woman and her partner remain intimate, even if they are unable, or do not want to be sexual. Exploring other ways of being sexual and intimate with a partner can rekindle any lost romance. Communication with a partner can help each individual maintain intimacy, as well as learn the other person’s thoughts and feelings about sexuality, intimacy, and aging. I recommend that an individual discuss any issues they may be having and work through them together, trying to find ways to overcome the issue in a way that both partners can agree upon.

In my book Pure Romance Between the Sheets I dedicated lots of information for couples of any age who are trying to adjust to life changes, but my Calendar of Connections is a great section for couples looking to redefine their intimate routines and find new ways to connect. Below is an excerpt from my Calendar of Connections:

January – Start Something New: A Journal
Use the arrival of a new calendar year to begin keeping a diary or journal, something many of us have done at least one time in our lives. Keeping a relationship journal is one way to express your feelings about your partner and your intimate relationship – feelings that change month to month, year to year. Try writing down those feelings along with your concerns, desires and maybe even a fantasy. If you are having trouble with intimacy, noting the frequency of your sexual thoughts may reveal a pattern in your cycle of arousal, such as when you are feeling most aroused, how long, and what triggers it. You can use this for your own and your partner’s benefit. Try copying a page from your journal and leaving it somewhere so your partner will find it. Reading about your thoughts and fantasies will open up a whole new form of communication.

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