No men or women over the age of 50 would argue that their sex life is just the same as it was when they were 20. Maybe it's better. Maybe it's worse. But either way, it's bound to be different.
Just as the body changes with age, so does sexuality. This physical transformation usually includes declining hormone levels for both men and women, as well as changes in neurology and circulation. These shifts often lead to a variety of sexual problems such as erectile dysfunction or vaginal dryness. A wide array of medical treatments is now available to address these and other conditions.
Outward appearances also change with age, sometimes bringing a decline in self-confidence in the sexual arena. Nearly everyone experiences some of these changes. But they don't spell the end of a sex life for most older people.
Both physical and emotional issues can interfere with a good sex life. Sometimes they intertwine, causing breakdowns in communication and inhibitions that cause sexuality to sputter and stall. But these are not problems you must live with. Instead, treatments are available that can improve, if not cure, most physical problems.
What you can do
Self-help techniques and counseling can bring relief to relationship problems. By shifting your focus away from your perceived flaws to your attributes, you can boost your self-esteem and establish your own standards for attractiveness.
Think back on what it was that made you attractive in your younger years. Was it your soulful brown eyes, your crooked smile, or maybe your infectious laugh? Chances are, those qualities are still as appealing as ever. Also, try directing your attention to the experience of giving and receiving pleasure during sex. This can help you find the confidence to give yourself over to the experience. Great sex is often the outgrowth of a deep emotional connection — something that's not guaranteed by having a perfect body. A negative self-image isn't always rooted in your appearance.
Career setbacks or other disappointments can lead to feelings of failure and depression, both of which sap desire. For men, episodes of impotence can undercut confidence in their manhood.
No matter what its cause, a poor self-image can take a toll on your sex life. When performance anxiety develops as a result, it can spark a downward spiral of repeated sexual failure and diminishing self-esteem. Correcting this problem demands serious attention to its origin.
Many of the physical changes that come with age have noticeable effects on the sex organs and the sexual cycle. Thus, the careful lovemaking of a 70-something couple may bear little resemblance to the lusty pairings of 20-year-olds. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Greater experience, fewer inhibitions, and a deeper understanding of your needs and those of your partner can more than compensate for the consequences of aging. The physical changes of aging can provide an impetus for developing a new and satisfying style of lovemaking.
Sexuality in later life
Middle-aged and older adults no longer accept such myths as "Sex is only for young people" and "Sex isn't important to older adults." A study conducted by AARP, "Sexuality at Midlife and Beyond," illustrates this. These are some of the findings:
- Five out of six respondents disagreed with the statement that "Sex is only for younger people."
- Six out of 10 people stated that sexual activity was a crucial part of a good relationship.
Only 10% of adults reported that they don't particularly enjoy sex, and just 12% agreed that they would be quite happy never having sex again.
Learn more about sex in later life with our Special Health Report "Sexuality in Midlife and Beyond."