Sex as you get older

Things inevitably change as you get older, but that doesn't mean you have to stop having sex.

Many people enjoy an active sex life well into old age, with some couples reporting that sex gets better with age.

Your sexual desires and appetite for sex can change over the years for many reasons. This is normal, and there's no right or wrong level of sexual activity at any age. It's a personal thing and everyone is different.

Here's some advice to help you enjoy a healthy sex life:  

Changes in sexual desire

Ageing causes many normal changes in the body, some of which may affect your sexual desire.

But there are plenty of ways to enjoy sex. Some couples find new enjoyment of sex without having penetrative sex.

Enjoy all the feelings of arousal with your partner, not just the orgasm. Take time to be more sensual:

  • Stroke and caress each other's skin.
  • Have a bath or shower together.
  • Kiss with passion.
  • Take time to undress each other.
  • Tell each other what you like and how you like to be touched.

Many people give each other oral sex or masturbate together as a healthy and enjoyable part of their sex life.

You may find talking to your partner about your feelings and sexual desires helpful, although it's not always easy to do.

For more advice read Keeping the passion alive.

Sex after the menopause

Some women say they feel more relaxed about sex after the menopause because they no longer have to worry about contraception.

However, some women can experience vaginal dryness and a lower sex drive after going through the menopause.

Tips to relieve vaginal dryness:

  • Soap, bath oils and shower gels can aggravate dryness. Instead, use lukewarm water alone or with a soap-free cleanser.
  • Try using a vaginal moisturiser or lubricant. These are available from pharmacies without a prescription.

A lower sex drive is often temporary, and being able to talk things through with an understanding partner may be all that's needed.

However, if symptoms of the menopause persist or if you have low mood, then it may be best to see your GP.

Find out more about treating vaginal dryness and reduced sexual desire after the menopause.

New relationships

Starting a new relationship later in life can be daunting, but it can also be exciting.

If you've lost a long-term partner, you may feel guilty about getting close to someone else and starting a sexual relationship.

If you've recently been divorced, you may feel angry. Avoid jumping into a new relationship before you've dealt with your feelings around ending the old one.

Take it slow and start with whatever feels comfortable for you, like hugs, closed-mouth kisses and caresses.

Talking about your feelings may help, whether it's with your new partner, a GP, a relationship counsellor or a sexual therapist.

Erection problems

Most men have erection problems at some time in their life, and the causes can be physical or psychological.

You should see your GP if you have erection problems for more than a few weeks, as it could be a sign of a more serious health condition.

Erection problems can often be improved by making changes to your lifestyle, such as losing weight if you are overweight or giving up smoking.

In some cases, your GP may recommend tablets, called PDE-5 inhibitors, that can help with erection problems.

If these drugs don't work or are not suitable, other treatments include:

  • vacuum pumps
  • penis injections
  • counselling

Find out more about Erectile dysfunction.

Be wary of buying medication over the internet, as it may not be safe.

Reduced sensitivity in men

A lack of sensitivity in the penis is a normal part of ageing. It can make it more difficult for some men to get an erection and reach orgasm.

To help, you could:

  • exercise your penis by having daily erections (even if it's not for sex)
  • try more direct stimulation of your penis during sex to improve your erection

Stopping smoking, losing weight and exercising more often can help by improving blood flow to the penis.

See your GP if you have reduced sensitivity, as this can sometimes be caused by another health condition.

Sex and arthritis

Arthritis can affect sexual intimacy. Here are some ways of overcoming common difficulties.

To help relieve joint pain:

  • Experiment with different positions to take pressure off your joints.
  • Use pillows or adaptive equipment for support. 
  • Take painkillers before sex.
  • Have a bath before sex.
  • Experiment with other forms of stimulation, such as masturbating each other.

To help with fatigue:

  • Think of ways to reduce your daily workload.
  • Make sure to rest during the day.
  • Share household chores with your partner.

If you've lost self-confidence:

  • Talk to your partner - they may not realise how you feel.
  • Let your partner know you need some reassurance.

Sex won't make your arthritis worse, so if sex is a regular part of your relationship then you can try to keep it that way.

For more advice, including images of helpful sexual positions, read Sex and Arthritis from Arthritis Research UK.

Sexually transmitted infections

Rates of some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among older people are on the rise and don't always have symptoms.

Condoms are the only form of contraception that will help to protect you from STIs.

If you've just started a new relationship or are beginning to date again, consider carrying condoms with you.

If things get sexual, don't wait for your partner to suggest using a condom, because they might not. Don't be afraid to bring up the subject of condoms yourself.

An STI can be passed from one person to another through sexual contact, including vaginal, anal and oral sex.

You can get or pass on an STI no matter who you're having sex with - they can pass between men and women, women and women, and men and men.

For more information on safer sex for same-sex partners, see Lesbian sexual health and Sexual health for gay and bisexual men.

If you're worried you might have an infection, talk to your GP. You can get tested at a sexual health clinic

Find out about STI symptoms and where to go for help if you're worried.

Where to get more help

These organisations can help with issues with sex and relationships as you get older:

Article provided by NHS Choices

See original on NHS Choices

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