Most older people want
and are able to enjoy an active, satisfying sex life. Regular sexual activity
helps maintain sexual ability. However, over time everyone may notice a
slowing of response. This is part of the normal aging process.
Changes With Age
Women may notice changes in the shape and flexibility of the vagina.
These changes may not cause a serious loss in the ability to enjoy sex.
Most women will have a decrease in vaginal lubrication that affects sexual
pleasure. A pharmacist can suggest over the counter vaginal lubricants.
notice more distinct changes. It may take longer to get an erection or
the erection may not be as firm or as large as in earlier years. The feeling
that an ejaculation is about to happen may be shorter. The loss of erection
after orgasm may be more rapid or it may take longer before an erection
is again possible. Some men may find they need more manual stimulation.
As men get older,
impotence seems to increase, especially in men with heart disease, hypertension,
and diabetes. Impotence is the loss of ability to achieve and maintain
an erection hard enough for sexual intercourse. Talk to your doctor. For
many men impotence can be managed and perhaps even reversed.
Effects of Illness
Although illness or disability can affect sexuality, even the most serious
conditions shouldn’t stop you from having a satisfying sex life.
Many people who have had a heart attack are afraid that having sex will
cause another attack. The risk of this is very low. Follow your doctor’s
advice. Most people can start having sex again 12 to 16 weeks after an
Most men with diabetes do not have problems, but it is one of the few
illnesses that can cause impotence. In most cases medical treatment can
function is rarely damaged by a stroke and it is unlikely that sexual
exertion will cause another stroke. Using different positions or medical
devices can help make up for any weakness or paralysis.
Joint pain due to arthritis can limit sexual activity. Surgery and drugs
may relieve this pain. In some cases drugs can decrease sexual desire.
Exercise, rest, warm baths, and changing the position or timing of sexual
activity can be helpful.
Most people worry about having any kind of surgery--it is especially troubling
when the sex organs are involved. The good news is that most people do
return to the kind of sex life they enjoyed before having surgery.
is the surgical removal of the womb. Performed correctly, a hysterectomy
does not hurt sexual functioning. If a hysterectomy seems to take away
from your ability to enjoy sex, a counselor can be helpful. Men who feel
their partners are “less feminine” after a hysterectomy can also be helped
is the surgical removal of all or part of a woman’s breast. Although her
body is as capable of sexual response as ever, a woman may lose her sexual
desire or her sense of being desired. Sometimes it is useful to talk with
other women who have had a mastectomy. Programs like the American Cancer
Society’s (ACS) “Reach to Recovery” can be helpful for both women and
men. Check your phone book for the local ACS listing.
is the surgical removal of all or part of the prostate. Sometimes a prostatectomy
needs to be done because of an enlarged prostate. This procedure rarely
causes impotence. If a radical prostatectomy (removal of prostate gland)
is needed, new surgical techniques can save the nerves going to the penis
and an erection may still be possible. If your sexuality is important
to you, talk to your doctor before surgery to make sure you will be able
to lead a fully satisfying sex life.
Alcohol. Too much alcohol can reduce potency in men and delay
orgasm in women.
Antidepressants, tranquilizers, and certain high blood pressure drugs
can cause impotence. Some drugs can make it difficult for men to ejaculate.
Some drugs reduce a woman’s sexual desire. Check with your doctor. She
or he can often prescribe a drug without this side effect.
This sexual activity can help unmarried, widowed, or divorced people and
those whose partners are ill or away.
who is sexually active can be at risk for being infected with HIV, the
virus that causes AIDS. Having safe sex is important for people at every
age. Talk with your doctor about ways to protect yourself from AIDS and
other sexually transmitted diseases. You are never too old to be at risk.
Sexuality is often a delicate balance of emotional and physical issues.
How we feel may affect what we are able to do. For example, men may fear
impotence will become a more frequent problem as they age. But, if you
are too worried about impotence, you can create enough stress to cause
it. As a woman ages, she may become more anxious about her appearance.
This emphasis on youthful physical beauty can interfere with a woman’s
ability to enjoy sex.
Older couples may
have the same problems that affect people of any age. But they may also
have the added concerns of age, retirement and other lifestyle changes,
and illness. These problems can cause sexual difficulties. Talk openly
with your doctor or see a therapist. These health professionals can often