And great sex is not just for young people. Intercourse is not only pleasurable, but it also keeps the body and mind healthy through continued intimacy with a partner and provides many health benefits. Unfortunately, intimacy can be challenging as we age, and our bodies become less flexible and experience the effect of hormonal changes.
Many older adults report that, while they consider sex an essential part of life, they are not happy with their current sex lives and find it difficult or uncomfortable to discuss sexual issues with their health care provider. Good sex is an essential quality of life issue. It affects the quality of our relationships and how we feel about ourselves. Men and women want to feel desirable and experience closeness with their partners, building confidence and self-esteem. Relationships and bonding with one’s partner are strengthened by sexual intimacy. The quality of a relationship is an important indicator of the quality of life as you age.
Sex has many health benefits that can improve your quality of life. Sexual activity tones muscles, burns calories, improves heart health, and helps to prevent heart disease. Sometimes, the underlying issues need the attention of your healthcare provider. But often, your sex life can be revived with just a bit of ingenuity and patience.
Aging bodies go through many transitions. As women approach menopause, their hormone levels decrease, and many women will notice a drop in their desire for sex, problems getting aroused, and reaching orgasm. Sometimes these issues are caused by hormonal changes, but they can also be related to medications and chronic health conditions such as arthritis, depression and diabetes, and lack of mobility. Although many women say sex over 40 is better than ever, others find themselves avoiding it. Some say sex just isn’t worth the trouble. With the loss of libido, soreness, and frequent bladder infections, there probably isn’t going to be a lot of satisfaction.
Men are not immune to age-related sexual problems. Many gentlemen experience lower libido and erectile dysfunction (trouble getting or keeping an erection). Some will have difficulty reaching orgasm, as well as shorter orgasms and less forceful ejaculation. As with women, these issues can be caused by declining hormone levels (in this case, low testosterone). They can also be related to medication side effects, chronic health conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, etc.
For both women and men, these changes can also be related to issues within the relationship itself; if you’ve been stuck in an unfulfilling relationship for some years, you’re not likely to feel a lot of desire for one another. It is also crucial to talk to your partner and ask what you both need in your relationship? For many couples, sexual intimacy leads to emotional intimacy, which enhances the relationship. So, if libido is low, you might have to be more intentional and creative about setting aside time for intimacy, rather than just waiting for it to happen. Being transparent and articulating your need to connect with your partner and creating the time to do so will benefit your relationship.
Body image can also play a role for all genders. Midlife weight gain, sags, and wrinkles can add even more barriers to a good sex life, and some women have trouble seeing themselves as sexual beings once they are past their childbearing years.
Open communication with your health care provider is also key. Although sex is a private matter, confidential interactions with your gynecologist can open up possibilities and recommendations to improve the quality of this chapter of your life. Health care providers should be non-judgmental and can discuss intimate issues in a frank manner. Believe me, while we understand your embarrassment in discussing intimate problems, we are very familiar with these concerns often voiced by women as they age. Many women feel alone and isolated when sexual problems arise, but from a gynecology point of view, these issues are quite common .
If you haven’t been sexually active in months or years, your body might have undergone some changes without realizing it. When sex resumes, you might find the experience is not quite what you expected or remembered. Regular sexual activity, with or without a partner, can help the vagina to maintain tone and lubrication, reducing the severity of atrophy and dryness. Spending more time on foreplay might help with desire and arousal issues.
Some women will need additional lubrication, and over-the-counter vaginal moisturizers and lubricants can be helpful for women with mild to moderate dryness. In fact, all women should have some lubrication, such as organic coconut oil, in their bedside drawer. Arousal can take a little longer for women, and a small amount of lubrication can make both foreplay and intercourse much more enjoyable.
Creativity a Must
Venture outside your routine. Remember, the brain is the largest sex organ we have, so experiment with new activities. Maintaining sexual interest involves enlisting a strong mind and body connection. Try some new positions (which might also help with pain issues), have sex at various times of day and in locations other than the bedroom. Read books, watch movies, and rent a cozy cabin for a weekend. Role-playing, lingerie, and surprising your partner with some unexpected texts during the day can spark romance. Experiment with vibrators and other sex toys. Do some online shopping in the privacy of your home.
Get to the Gym
Losing a few pounds and getting more active can help you feel more desirable. Losing weight can also help with other conditions, such as high blood pressure, which can contribute to sexual problems. Exercise also releases chemicals called endorphins that react with receptors in your brain and trigger a positive feeling in the body similar to that of morphine. Ask your doctor if your hormone levels should be evaluated and if prescription hormone replacements might help you. As discussed in previous Couri Center articles, hormone replacement can also be incredibly beneficial to maintaining libido and an active and satisfying sex life.
Your healthcare provider may also be able to identify physical or anatomical changes interfering with sexual intimacy. For example, some women experience pelvic organ prolapse, in which nearby organs slip out of place and bulge into the vaginal wall. This can worsen with menopause, as the vaginal tissue thins and has trouble supporting the area. Losing weight, treating a chronic cough, doing pelvic floor exercises (Kegel exercises), pelvic physical therapy, and radiofrequency treatments such as Emsella can help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles (and help with bladder control).
And don’t forget about birth control. Even if you are older, until you have gone through menopause (an entire year or more without a period), pregnancy is possible. If you are developing a relationship with someone new, you’ll also need to be careful about sexually transmitted diseases, something you might not have thought about in a long time. Safe sex practices are critical to consider as you reclaim your sex life with a new partner.
The desire for sexual intimacy is timeless. Your body is changing and the ability to adapt to these changes can lead to ongoing fulfillment. By looking forward, you can keep the flame alive.
If you are experiencing issues that are affecting your sex life, call 309-692-6838 or schedule a visit now. We’re here to help. New patients are welcome!
Dana Humes Goff, APRN, CNM, DNP