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June 12, 2018

Older Adults’ Views on Aging and Sex May Surprise You

You’re as young as you feel: true or false?

According to a study recently conducted by the University of Waterloo, if you feel young at heart, that goes a long way towards having a satisfying sex life. This study, published in the Journal of Sex Research, examined attitudes of adults aged mid-40s to mid-70s, finding that, “the closer people felt to their chronological age, the less they rated sexual activity as enjoyable over time.” Those who held negative attitudes about aging, perhaps believing that people in their 20s are better off than those in their 60s, were more likely to have less satisfying sex lives.

Note that this study was not focusing on the frequency or quantity of sexual activity; rather, it analyzed the quality of sexual experiences and how happy people were with their experiences. And, results held true even when researchers “controlled for actual age and chronic health conditions,” with how old a person felt serving “as strong a predictor of sexual satisfaction in midlife and later life” as more obvious factors, such as a person feeling fitter, being more active and having a stronger sex drive.

As a conclusion, to have a more satisfying sex life, it’s important to “guard against pervasive negative stereotypes about aging” because how you view yourself as you age is key.

How Older Adults Can Have a More Satisfying Sex Life

“If you have a long-term partner, take time to enjoy each other and to understand the changes you are both facing.” (National Institute on Aging)

If you are facing challenges that makes your sex life more difficult, talk to your doctor. For women, vaginal dryness can lead to painful intercourse, and a doctor or pharmacist can offer guidance for the best over-the-counter vaginal moisturizers or lubricants. The first – moisturizers – are to be used regularly, every two or three days. Water-based lubricants, meanwhile, are used to make the act of intercourse more comfortable. Here’s another option: vaginal estrogen, available by prescription.

For men, erectile dysfunction (ED) can be a problem, one managed “or perhaps even reversed” through medication and other treatments. Talk to your doctor before taking any dietary or herbal supplements and note that prescription medications can’t be used if you’re taking nitroglycerin or other medicines containing nitrates. If you do take medications for ED, they can have side effects so be sure to talk to your doctor if you experience some.

Finally, some older adults may discover that what they really want is affection, and “hugging, kissing, touching, and spending time together” can satisfy that longing, and can, if desired, also serve as a prelude to “greater intimacy and sex.”

Aging and Sex: Safe Sex Still Matters

Although most conversations around safe sex focus on younger adults, age is not a protection against sexually transmitted diseases, such as syphilis or gonorrhea, genital herpes and/or warts, chlamydial infection, hepatitis B, trichomoniasis – or even AIDS.

The National Institute of Aging offers multiple tips to protect yourself when you’re sexually active, including:

  • Wearing a condom during vaginal and anal sex (or making sure your partner does)
  • Scheduling regular checkups and testing
  • Having conversations with your partner about safe sex

If you are sexually active with multiple partners or with someone you don’t know as well, then this next piece of advice holds true across demographics: be even more vigilant with your safe sex practices.


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