Sexual health and intimacy in seniors is something that we as a society tend to have a difficult time discussing. The reality is, however, that over 40% of people between the ages of 65–80 are sexually active, and failing to have open conversations around this topic leads to a lot of misconceptions, flawed information, and downright myths. Sexual health is a core component of healthcare, and it’s something that older adults should be able to discuss without shame or stigma.
Many Seniors Have Active Sex Lives
Studies show that about two-thirds of seniors are still interested in sex. Furthermore, about 50% of seniors say that sex is an important factor in their quality of life. Many older individuals say that while the sex itself may change with age, the enjoyment doesn’t have to. Of the 40% of people over 65 who are sexually active, 73% report high levels of satisfaction in their sex lives.
Despite the fact that intimacy and sex are important to many seniors, they often have difficulty discussing it due to the stigmas that exist. Many older people feel that they get an implicit message that sex is for the young, and as a consequence feel embarrassed or ‘dirty’ talking about it.
The reality is that intimacy and sex are important to people across all age ranges. While older individuals may have sex less often, or simply have sex lives that look different from those of young people, it’s still an important component of health and quality of life. Furthermore, connecting with someone on a more intimate level can help seniors struggling to find a sense of purpose.
Stigmas Around Senior Sexual Health
One of the biggest barriers to proper sexual healthcare in older adults is their hesitation to talk to their doctors and caregivers about questions and concerns they may have. It’s understandable, as some doctors don't discuss sex with senior patients, and may even occasionally feel uncomfortable themselves. Understanding the need to talk openly and non-judgmentally about sexuality can do wonders for a senior's quality of life.
While many older adults report being very satisfied with their current sex lives, they also tend to engage in sex differently from when they were young. It’s important for seniors to realize that their partner may want to be intimate in ways that are more comfortable and accommodating than they’re used to.
Sex can be pleasurable no matter your age, but it’s also important for seniors to be aware that some of the things they or their partner enjoyed when they were younger could now be unpleasant or even painful. It’s important for older adults to communicate openly with their partners about what they are and aren’t comfortable with.
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Enjoying Sex as a Senior
As the body changes with age, a number of potential issues with sexual function can crop up. Fortunately, many of these can be fixed—or, at the very least, worked around. Men experience a natural decline in testosterone as they age, and issues with sexual dysfunction start to become more common after 40. Many other contributing factors are linked to aging, but not necessarily caused by it. High blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease can all contribute to inhibited sexual performance. Prostate issues become more common as men get older, and can lead to erectile dysfunction. Fortunately, there are treatments available, and a prescription treatment like Cialis can be extremely effective for older adults. Keep in mind that it’s important to consult with a medical professional before starting any medication. While these medications are generally very safe, they may not be right for those with certain medical conditions, like heart disease.
Women also experience changes in their sexual function as they age. Estrogen declines sharply after menopause, and can lead to decreased libido and difficulty getting aroused. Women may also experience physical changes to their sexual organs as they age, meaning that sexual experiences need to be gentler, and adjusted for comfort. Some older couples are still very intimate, but find that penetrative sex isn’t a great fit for them anymore. There are many other ways people can be intimate, and gratification can be achieved in less physically demanding ways.
The Importance of Practicing Safe Sex
While it’s very important for seniors to practice care to avoid physical discomfort or injury, less discussed is the need to practice safe sex. This can be a difficult discussion to have with seniors, as many of them tend to think less about prophylactics as they age. This is due in part to the fact that most older couples don’t have to worry about pregnancy. Despite this, it’s important to express just how crucial it is to use protection to avoid sexually transmitted diseases and infections. The consequences of not having these conversations can be severe, and studies show that the prevalence of STIs and STDs among those over the age of 65 has been increasing since the 90s. Practicing safe sex is even more crucial for those who have had or have multiple partners—condoms and dental dams are very effective at preventing the spread of sexually transmitted infections and diseases.
Sex and sexuality are important across all age ranges, and it’s perfectly normal for older adults to want to experience intimacy and gratification. It’s on us to make them feel comfortable discussing this important topic and provide guidance and advice without reinforcing stigmas.