More than 50% of people over the age of 70 are sexually active. While sexual activity will change as you age, the desire for closeness and intimacy will likely remain strong. Talking with your OBGYN or Midwife about aging and sexuality can help you know what to expect as you grow older and how you can maintain your sexual health at any age.
There’s an especially common misconception that the desire for sex and intimacy in women wanes as they age. But recent studies have found that this isn’t necessarily the case. True, your sex life may not be the same at 50 as it was at 20–but those differences can be enriching and fulfilling.
In those cases where physiological causes diminish your enjoyment of sex, be sure to talk to your OBGYN or Midwife about possible solutions.
What Aging and Sexuality Look Like?
One of the most common misconceptions regarding sexuality and aging is that every change is negative. The reality is that many people discover greater intimacy and satisfaction with age. But it’s also true that many people aren’t necessarily sure what to expect. Just as aging impacts everyone’s general health uniquely, aging and sexuality will look different for everyone.
For most, the primary concerns revolve around physiological changes that may interfere with your ability to become intimate. This could involve hormone changes that diminish your ability to enjoy sex, for example. But most couples can still find ways to be intimate and close to each other; it may simply look a little bit different than it used to. At the same time, your OBGYN or Midwife may be able to offer solutions that help improve your sexual health.
In many ways, the way that “most” women respond to sexuality and aging doesn’t matter. What’s important to you is how you as an individual respond to aging and sex–especially in terms of how you envision expression your sexuality in the future and how important your sexual health is to you.
Normal Changes in Sex for Women as They Age
For most women, there are two primary changes that occur which can make the enjoyment and expression of your sexuality more challenging:
- Changes in the vagina: It’s not uncommon for the vagina to grow shorter as you age. Additionally, the vaginal walls can become thinner and more rigid. This can lead to some discomfort during sex.
- Lower estrogen levels: As women become premenopausal, their hormone levels change. In most cases, this leads to a drop in estrogen production. This can impact many aspects of your life. But in terms of sexuality, a drop in estrogen levels may mean it’s more difficult to achieve sexual arousal. Vaginal dryness may also be an issue.
These changes can make sexual intercourse painful for many women. There are several possible solutions, including medications. Some couples may also avoid penetration and find other ways to express their intimacy.
There are other changes you can expect that are related to general aging. Issues such as arthritis or chronic pain can simply make moving around more challenging. Certain aspects of sex may be less fun when your hands or hips are in pain! As a result, it’s important to find sexual expressions that feel good and bring you enjoyment.
Conditions and Medications That Can Impact Your Sexual Health
In general, anything that impacts your overall health will likely influence your sexual health as well. Conditions ranging from high blood pressure to diabetes to simple hormonal changes can all impact your sexual wellbeing.
You’ll want to talk to your OBGYN or Midwife about ways you can stay healthy enough for sexual activity. For some, that may mean focusing on maintaining a balanced lifestyle, including eating well and exercising regularly. In other cases, your OBGYN or Midwife may suggest medications.
Medications That Can Impact Sexuality as You Age
Of course, there are also medications which can negatively impact your sexual desire. Many anti-depressants, for example, have been known to diminish the desire for sexual activity.
If you have concerns that your medication is interfering with your sexual desire, you should talk to your OBGYN or Midwife. It’s possible that you may be able to find a solution that treats your condition and does not impede your sexual health.
It’s also important to note that some medications can have the opposite impact–increasing your desire for sex. For example, estrogen prescriptions for perimenopause have been shown to increase sexual desire.
Medical Situations That Impact Sexual Health
There may also be some medical and healthcare-related issues that can impact your sexual wellness. Those could include:
- Surgery: When you undergo surgery, your body will likely require time to heal. Sexual activity may not be top-of-mind during recovery–and any procedure that impacts the hips or nervous system may amplify that effect. However, with rest and recovery your sexual desire will usually return.
- Your partner becomes ill: Many sexual activities require a partner. So, when your partner experiences illness or disease, that can put a damper on things. First, you’re worried about your partner. Second, you may find yourself taking on a caregiver role (which can diminish desire). Additionally, your partner may experience pain and discomfort, which can interfere with sexual desire in both parties. The key to rebuilding sexual intimacy is to communicate about what’s needed and perhaps brainstorm other ways to be close.
Communication is Critical
Aging is a series of changes, both for you and for your partner. Maintaining an enriching sex life depends on open and honest communication as you age. This is, of course, true at any age. But it’s especially relevant when it comes to aging and sexuality.
Here are some things you should consider communicating about:
- Differences in desire: If you and your partner experience differences in desire, it’s important to discuss those. These conversations can feel a little tricky, so don’t hesitate to use plenty of “I feel” statements.
- New ways to be intimate: There are many ways to experience intimacy. Talk to your partner about what works best for you now–kissing, touching, and hugging can all be very effective ways to express love and affection. Talk about what you need from your partner (and what your partner needs from you).
- Safety: Ensure that you and your partner are talking about safe sex. If you’ve already experienced menopause, it’s true that you can no longer become pregnant–but you can catch sexually transmitted infections. Safe sex practices can help keep you healthy and active.
- Communicate with your doctor: It’s not just your partner you need to communicate with. It’s also your doctor. In part, that’s because your doctor can help you with medical issues that impact your sexual health–getting your desire back on track.
An Enriching Part of Life
There are plenty of misconceptions about what sexuality later in life may look like. What’s important, however, is to determine what you want your sex life to look like. Your OBGYN or Midwife can help you maintain and improve your sexual health–so you can enjoy your sex life as you age.