Sex and Seniors
A recent survey has shattered an age-old belief that sex becomes less important, less frequent and less risky as we age. The survey has confirmed what many of us already know, that people over 55 still have sexual desires and remain sexually active well into their 80s.
We hope the following information will answer many of your questions, correct some misconceptions and help you to enjoy an active sex life in a healthy and safe manner.
Do Most Seniors Remain Sexually Active?
Yes, a nationwide study* revealed some interesting facts such as: 73% of respondents aged 57-64 said they were sexually active during the last 12 months. For adults between 65-74 years old, 53% remained active, and 26% of seniors 75- 85 said they were.
What Are Some Common Difficulties Amongst Seniors?
The most frequent problems encountered by women were lower sex drive, vaginal dryness and an inability to climax. The most common problem reported by men was impotence (erectile dysfunction). The study indicated that seniors are somewhat reluctant to talk to their doctors about these concerns.
These issues as well as others are treatable and should be discussed with your doctor, a nurse or healthcare professional. For example, the lessening of sexual desire or erectile dysfunction can be caused by an undiagnosed medical problem or by medications you are currently taking. Vaginal dryness can be alleviated with an over-the-counter lubricant.
These concerns affect people in heterosexual and gay relationships.
Do Diseases Or Health Problems Affect Sexual Functioning?
In most cases, the answer is no. Below are some misconceptions surrounding this issue.
Heart Disease: People have a fear that engaging in sexual activity can cause a heart attack. The fact is that an active sex life may actually decrease the risk of a future attack.
Diabetes can cause impotence, but once the disease is diagnosed and treated, in many cases, the ability to have an erection can be restored with medications or other treatments.
Stroke may interfere with sexual functioning. In those cases were it does, your doctor can oftentimes suggest ways to overcome the problem. It is unlikely that sexual activity will cause another stroke.
Arthritis causes stiffness and pain in joints which can interfere with sexual activity and enjoyment. However, medications and therapies can overcome difficulties that may arise from this disease. Also, gentle, tender and creative lovemaking can increase your sense of pleasure.
Prostatectomy may cause impotence, depending upon the extent of the surgery and a man’s age. If needed, medications and treatments are available to help obtain and maintain an erection. You should discuss this with your doctor.
Hysterectomy and mastectomy do not affect sexual functioning. If you or your partner has difficulty being intimate, you may wish to seek counseling (a psychotherapist, social worker or psychologist) as a means of resolving emotional or psychological issues.
Alcohol abuse is the most widespread cause of sexual problems. It reduces potency in men and delays orgasm in women.
Smoking can damage penile arteries and cause impotence.
Do Medications Impact Sexual Functioning?
In some cases, yes. There are a number of drugs, including antidepressants, sleeping pills, antihistamines and medications used to treat high blood pressure, pain and prostate cancer that may cause erectile dysfunction in men or reduce sexual desire in women. If you think your medications are affecting your sexual functioning or ability to be aroused, talk to your doctor.
Who Is Affected By Impotence?
Estimates are that more than 30 million men in the United States experience impotence. In a 2007 study, approximately 37% of sexually active seniors reported this problem. Some 60% of men say they have not discussed this with their doctor. Again, in many cases, this problem can be corrected, so talk to your doctor.
Are Seniors At Risk For Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD)?
Yes! Some of the most common STDs include HIV/AIDS, Syphilis, Gonorrhoea, Chlamydia, genital herpes and genital warts. In the last 10 years, HIV cases have risen an alarming 500% among people over 50. 27% of people living with AIDS in the U.S. are 50 and older. So why is this happening?
Many seniors have a basic lack of knowledge regarding STDs, because sex education was not taught in school when they were younger. Also, seniors who had been in monogamous relationships and are now divorced or widowed are not accustomed to using condoms and may not realize they are at risk of contracting a STD when they resume sexual activity. Additionally, women who have completed menopause and can no longer get pregnant see no reason to use any protection.
How Can Seniors Avoid Getting STDs?
By following some simple rules, you can help stop the spread of STDs.
- A monogamous relationship refers to being in a long-term, committed relationship and having sex only with your partner. You both should be tested for STDs before your first sexual contact.
- For anyone not in a monogamous relationship, condoms must be used correctly every time you have sex because you or your partner may be unaware that you are infected with a sexually transmitted disease. Latex condoms are most effective in preventing STDs. (There still is a 1%-5% failure rate even when using them.)
- Have a frank conversation with your partner about previous sexual encounters. It’s smart for both of you be tested for STDs, get treatment if appropriate and take necessary precautions for safe sex. Health centers provide free testing.
- Using drugs or alcohol can impair your judgment and ability to use a condom properly.
- Abstinence means not having sexual relations with anyone, and is the only way of guaranteeing that you won’t get a STD.
What Should Seniors Do If They Have An STD?
If you are diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease, the only person who can advise you on appropriate treatment is your doctor. Treatment must be immediate, and all sexual contact must be avoided until your doctor gives you a clean bill of health.
* National Social Life, Health and Aging Project, August 2007.