Sex and Aging: Keeping the Passion Alive

Remember "Cocoon"? And how a group of formerly complacent septa- and octogenarians became frisky again, thanks to a shot of extraterrestrial Viagra? Well, as funny as it may have been, the truth is that sexual activity lessens for many couples as they grow older, whether due to physical challenges or merely a lack of interest. However, sex over sixty does happen, and in fabulous ways!

Now, before you turn away, shaking your head, thinking this doesn't apply to you, let me tell you something: Barring accidents or great leaps in medical technology, you will grow older, as will everyone else. If anything, this should encourage everyone out there that the physical, sexual part of your relationship doesn't have to lessen or fade. In fact, these may be the best years of your life. First, let's take a look at two factors that make it important to keep lust alive: longevity and healthier living.

Thanks, in part, to those aforementioned technological leaps, people are living much longer than they used to. In fact, according to a 2001 report by the National Institute on Aging, people, eighty and older were the fastest-growing portion of the population in many countries. Life expectancy in the U.S. has increased from around fifty years of age at the beginning of the twentieth century to nearly eighty years of age, nowadays. That means many more years with a spouse or partner, and who wants to spend those extra years just staring at each other?

Hand in hand with living longer, we're also living better, for the most part. With more access to health information and more studies being done on nutrition, disease and just aging in general, many folks are living haler and heartier lives. This is particularly true down the line, since people who have a regular exercise regimen and eat a well-balanced diet seem to stick with it well into their golden years. And, of course, people who feel good about themselves and look good on top of it are more likely to be more comfortable being physically intimate long after retirement age.

So, now we know a little about why sex and sexuality should continue to be important to all of us. What about how to keep that intimacy and desire stoked, despite some of the hurdles that generally go hand in hand with aging?

Assuming we're discussing situations that don't involve a major physical disability or health issue (please see our Sex & Disability section for further information on these topics), let's take a look at the common blocks to senior satisfaction.

The mind is willing, but the flesh is weak.

This can be due to any number of causes, both physical and psychological, but may be overcome with a patient, loving partner. For otherwise healthy men dealing with bouts of erectile dysfunction, there are various sexual aids that can help the lovemaking process along. Strap-on prosthetics (or PPAs) are available in a variety of sizes, colors and shapes, and are perfect for the man who cannot sustain an erection or have any erection at all and would still like to make love to his partner the old-fashioned way.

If one is willing to be even more experimental, remember it is possible to satisfy another person using hands and mouth, as well as battery-operated and electrically powered little helpers. While this may be new and strange territory for some, it's also an exciting way to reinvigorate your sexual life as well as your partner! If it's just too overwhelming to try to pick something out on your own, have a discussion with your loved one and try to pinpoint what you want this vibrating friend to do -- that should help narrow down the choices. Also remember, you don't have to get the biggest thing with all the bells and whistles; sometimes simpler is better.

For healthy, mature women, generally the biggest physical factors preventing full enjoyment of intercourse are decreased vaginal lubrication and an increase in the amount of time it takes to reach orgasm. Obviously, the lubrication part is fairly easy to address; they're readily available and there are so many to choose from! You just have to find the one that works best for you and your partner.

As far as taking longer to reach orgasmic heights, that's not necessarily a bad thing. It means more intimate time with your partner and -- hopefully -- more touching and caressing, foreplay-type activities. However, if you feel that your partner isn't up to it or you simply want to engage in a quickie, again, feel free to call on the powers of vibratory aids. They can certainly help folks of all ages!

While menopause may certainly contribute to the above afflictions and more, it doesn't automatically equal libido shut-down. In fact, studies have shown that many women enjoy sex even more so after menopause, thanks to not having to worry about unwanted pregnancy or planning sex around their periods. So don't think that your sensual life is over once you go through "the change" -- you're merely in a new and exciting stage of life!

Lack of a partner.

The sad truth is that the longer one lives, the better the chance of outliving spouses and friends; therefore, many people simply stop engaging in pleasures of the flesh because they have no one with whom to engage. As we continue to live longer and longer, though, losing a spouse or lover at sixty, seventy, or even eighty doesn't have to mean the end of the survivor's life as well. With so many programs like cruises, cultural outings and lectures geared toward retired persons, including those who are in assisted living and other retirement homes, there are plenty of vehicles for meeting new people. Whether it's group trips or activities, or even taking a class that interests you, there's always the possibility of partnering up again. And while it can be scary to meet new people, not to mention give you feelings of guilt for "moving on," it's also a leap that will keep you active and engaged for as long as you want to be!

Plain old guilt.

Many older couples simply feel it's wrong to have sexual urges and wants after a certain age. Thanks in part to some people's reaction to affection beyond hand-holding among the more mature set, some seniors may feel they're feeding the "dirty old man" image by desiring another person later in life. As long as you're not making out and groping each other in public -- because, quite frankly, no one wants to see that at any age -- sharing your desires with your partner is totally normal.

Research has shown that the need and desire for sex do not significantly diminish as we age, plus, the capacity for men and women to reach orgasm can go on indefinitely. Simply put, as long as you and your partner find each other attractive and want to continue fulfilling your sexual needs, there's no reason you can't still be lusting after your partner -- and vice versa -- until the day you die.

This is, of course, an extremely abbreviated take on a complex and somewhat delicate topic. There are many other things that can factor into a change in one’s love life at any age, including deeper psychological causes, health changes, or sudden onset of a physical disability. If you are interested in exploring any of these topics more thoroughly, visit our Sex & Disability section, as well as delve a bit into our Q&A archives, where answers are provided by our own staff sexologist, Dr. Sandor Gardos and Dr. Linda Mona, MyPleasure’s Sexuality and Disability expert. Of course, any questions regarding your own health and situation should be addressed by your physician.

Otherwise, this should give everyone at least a small idea about what it really means to get older, in terms of sexuality. It's far from the end, and in many ways, it can be a fresh beginning! Whether it's a newly renewed intimacy with a long-time love or exploring with a brand new partner, love and sex will endure as long as you want it to... and isn't that something we can all look forward to?


by Trisha Hurlburt