For millions of baby boomers now in their 50s and 60s, sexual activity is the norm. They’re staying sexually active and enjoying it. Today’s older adults are not following the stereotypical dictates of the middle-aged of past generations who believed sex was only for the young. Men and women in their 50s and 60s still feel young, and they aren’t about to give up their tennis games, aerobics, vacations or sex lives.
Yet, there are “realities” of aging. When women reach menopause, a fall in estrogen levels may lead to vaginal dryness and the thinning of the vaginal wall that can make sex uncomfortable. After surgical treatment of the prostate for cancer or benign prostatic hyperplasia, men might have erectile dysfunction. Men and women are at higher risk for a range of illnesses that can affect sexual performance and interest, from arthritis to high blood pressure and heart disease.
While it’s important to be aware of how the aging process can affect sexuality, it’s equally important not to view sexual problems as a natural part of aging. If people in their 50s and older experience a noticeable decline in their desire for sex or fail to become aroused, they should seek medical help. While sex tends to be associated with youth or having a family, it is much more than that. Sex fulfills our basic need for a close connection with another person. There is no good reason why people can’t remain sexually active throughout their entire lives. Sex can mean much more than intercourse. It encompasses many different ways of showing affection and sharing intimacy.
Modern Maturity Sexuality Survey:
The AARP/Modern Maturity Sexuality Survey, a survey of nearly 1,400 adults 45 and older, shed much-needed light upon sexual behaviors and attitudes among this segment of the population.
Here are some major findings:
While the majority of men and women said that satisfying sex is important to their quality of life, they see relationships as more important than the sexual activity.•The “partner gap” is one of the most obvious factors affecting sexual activity. While roughly 80 percent of men and women 45 to 59 years have partners, only 58 percent of men and 21 percent of women 75 and older have partners.
- Reported sexual activity declines with age for men and women, as health declines and many lose their partners. However, 64 percent of men and 68 percent of women who have sexual partners are extremely or somewhat satisfied with their sex lives.
- Out of all those surveyed, 22 percent of men and 7 percent of women report they are now or have in the past taken any medicine, hormone or other treatment to enhance sexual performance. Among those who have done so, 68 percent reported improvement in their sexual satisfaction and relationship with their partner.
This last finding suggests many men and women 50 and older are not seeking help from their physicians for sexual problems. If you are in this age group, realize that you are not alone and that help may be available.
There are many positive aspects of intimacy in the 50s and beyond. Empty nesters can now concentrate on their relationship and become romantically re-acquainted. Taking vacations and exploring new interests together are viable now that careers and children are no longer the focus. Singles in their 50s can bring new stimulation and excitement to their lives with a new partner.
Also, there are advantages to being older. According to a study by the National Institutes of Health and The Ford Foundation, women ages 50 to 59 were a third less likely to have pain during sex and half as likely to report anxiety or non-pleasurable sex. Men ages 50 to 59 did not have any more performance anxiety than men ages 18 to 29.
The following tips are beneficial antidotes to the often inevitable physical realities of growing older:
- Communicate with your partner. Talk about pleasing each other. Discussing changes in sexual response, erectile dysfunction or a loss of sex drive helps deal with the problem.
- Take your time. Men and women may need more manual stimulation or foreplay. Also, find ways to adjust to changes. Women in menopause may need to use a lubricant.
- Find a doctor with whom you can be candid. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for advice and possible medication to enhance intimacy.
Most importantly, stay in shape. Keep physically and mentally fit so that you’ll be ready for the romance that awaits you well into your later years.