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Healthy Aging (cont.)

Sexual Vitality

Because sexuality tends to be a private matter, it's likely that you've heard less about sexual change than any other element of aging. Fortunately, the news is good—for most healthy adults, pleasure and interest don't diminish with age. Most people are sexual throughout their lives, with or without a partner, and some feel greater sexual freedom in their later years. On the other hand, some men and women are content to be sexually inactive.

Around age 50, men and women typically begin to notice changes in their sexual drive, sexual response, or both. Like so many other physical changes that evolve over time, these aren't signs that you are losing your sexuality. Rather, these changes are simply something to adjust to and discuss openly with your partner and/or your doctor.

Normal sexual changes in men

As you age beyond your 50s, you may find that:

  • Male sex drive is minimally affected by age (although health problems, certain medicines, or relationship stress can lower sex drive).
  • Erections become less firm and tend to take more time than when you were younger.
  • You may be able to delay ejaculation for longer than when you were younger.

Normal sexual changes in women

After menopause, estrogen and androgen levels drop, causing physical changes. You may find that:

  • It can take longer to become sexually excited.
  • You are less interested in sex.
  • Your skin may be more sensitive and easily irritated when caressed.
  • Intercourse may be painful because of thinning vaginal walls (regular sex often helps prevent this from becoming severe). If a water-based lubricant (such as Astroglide) isn't enough, talk to your doctor about vaginal estrogen cream, which reverses thinning and sensitivity. For more information, see the topics Menopause and Perimenopause and Sexual Problems in Women.

If you have noticed sexual changes that don't seem to be linked to normal aging, talk to your doctor. There are a number of medicines that can cause sexual problems, as well as health conditions that can cause sexual problems.

Adjusting to age-related sexual changes

With a little experimentation and patience, you can adjust to sexual changes and satisfy your sexual and intimacy needs. If you think your sexual interest might be affected by a medicine or health problem, work with your doctor to correct or treat it. Talk with your partner about any misgivings you might have so you can handle them together.

With your partner, take your time to set a relaxed mood and engage in foreplay. Use a lubricant if vaginal dryness or irritation is a barrier to enjoying sex. If you drink alcohol, remember that a small amount may relax you and increase your responsiveness, but too much alcohol is not likely to be helpful.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are a risk no matter what age you are. Unless you and your partner have recently been tested or you are 100% sure that you both have been monogamous for many years without infection, make sure that you practice safe sex to prevent STIs. For more information, see the topic Safe Sex.

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