Sexuality & Aging: An Overview

This webpage is for information purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

Sex: It’s Not Just for the Young

Many people think that older people don’t have sex. But this is far from the truth. Sexuality is an important part of the aging process, and many seniors want - and have - active, satisfying sex lives as they grow older.

However, as we age, the physical changes our bodies go through - as well as cultural and psychological influences - can affect our sexuality in our “autumn” years.

Cultural Influences

When it comes to sexuality and aging, most people believe:

  • That sexuality is associated with youthful looks and vigour.
  • That people become less desirable and less sexual as they age.
Sadly, many older adults accept these stereotypes and buy into the notion that they’re not allowed to be sexual.

Psychological Influences

Worries about sexual performance are common as people age. Some might feel sex is no longer appropriate after a certain age. Others, perhaps feeling embarrassed about their changing physiology and this impact on their sex lives, might avoid regular sexual activity. Sometimes illness or loss of a partner interferes with sexuality.

The Issue Is Choice

Studies show that with good health, proper information and a supportive partner both males and females can enjoy sex for as long as they wish. All that’s needed is motivation to learn, a readiness to seek professional help when needed, and a willingness to adjust to some of the normal changes of aging.

The issue here is one of choice. If you decide that sex is no longer right for you, then that’s perfectly acceptable. After all, it is possible to live a fulfilling life without sex. But if you choose to continue to enjoy sexual activity and intimacy with another person, you deserve unbiased support and encouragement.

Physical Changes - Men

Sex Drive

A male’s sexual response begins to slow down after age 50. Testosterone levels also decease with age. However, most sexual problems are not testosterone-based, and sexual drive is influenced more by an older male’s health and attitude towards sex rather than his age.

Men of all ages need to take precautions against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as HIV/AIDS or gonorrhea. If you think you might be at risk for an STI, make sure you use a condom each time you have sex. You should also seek testing for STIs.

Arousal, Erections and Ejaculation

  • It takes more time for an older man to get an erection.
  • Erections are not as firm.
  • Erections don’t last as long, and it takes longer for an older man to have another erection once he's ejaculated.
  • Older men are able to delay ejaculation for a longer time.

Physical Changes - Women

Sex Drive

Around the time of menopause you might discover your feelings about sex have changed. You could be less interested or you could feel more liberated and sexier.

While older women no longer have to worry about getting pregnant, they do have to take precautions against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as HIV/AIDS or gonorrhea. If you think you might be at risk for an STI, make sure your partner uses a condom each time you have sex.

Arousal, Lubrication and Orgasm

  • It may take longer for an older woman to become sexually excited.
  • The walls of the vagina become thinner and drier and are more easily irritated during intercourse.
  • Orgasms may be somewhat shorter than they used to be, and the contractions experienced during orgasm can be uncomfortable.

Not all women experience these symptoms, and those who do can experiment to find ways to enjoy sex despite these physical changes.

Effect of Illness, Medications & Surgery


In addition to the normal changes of aging, illnesses and other conditions can contribute to sexual concerns. These include:

  • Cancers, especially in the genital area such as prostate cancer
  • Chronic pain
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Illnesses effecting the vascular system, such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke
  • Neurological conditions
  • Traumas

Medications & Surgeries

Some commonly used medications can interfere with sexual function. Many surgeries - especially those that can influence how a person views himself or herself like hysterectomies, mastectomies and prostatectomies - can affect sexual response.

Certain drugs, like those used to control high blood pressure, can decrease sexual desire and affect erections and vaginal lubrication. Side effects from antihistamines, antidepressants and acid-blocking drugs can also affect sexual function.

Talk with your doctor about how your medications and physical conditions can affect your sexual response and how you and your partner can work together to minimize those effects.

Don’t Let Illness Stop You

As you age it’s more likely you'll have some form of illness or chronic disease. That doesn’t mean that medical conditions should hinder your sexual activity.

Even the most serious medical conditions shouldn’t stop you from having a satisfying sex life. Talk to your doctor about managing your medical condition and overcoming any barriers. (For example, if you’re recovering from a heart attack or heart surgery, your doctor can suggest sexual positions that put less demand on the heart.)

Tips for Staying Sexual

Body Tips

  • Get - and stay - in shape! Keep physically and mentally fit so you'll be ready for romance.
  • Find a doctor with whom you feel comfortable. Don't be embarrassed to ask for advice and perhaps medication to enhance intimacy.
  • If vaginal dryness is a problem, use vaginal lubricant or insert a vaginal lubricant suppository prior to intercourse.
  • Do Kegel exercises daily to tone your vaginal muscles. (Kegels are exercises you can do to strengthen the muscles that support your urethra, bladder, uterus, and rectum.)
  • Strong vaginal muscle tone not only increases the sensation for both males and females during sexual intercourse, but also helps prevent incontinence.
  • If you’re an older man and you can’t get or keep an erection, talk to your doctor. There are several new possibilities for the treatment of impotence (e.g., erectile dysfunction medications, penile implants).
  • Practice "safer" sex to avoid getting or transmitting a sexually transmitted infection (STI):

    • Abstain from sexual activities where bodily fluids are exchanged.
    • Be sure to get tested together with each new sexual partner before engaging in any sexual activity.
    • Talk to your possible sex partners about their lifestyle and STIs. Anyone who has a history of multiple sex partners and/or intravenous drug use might put you at risk.
    • Use lubricated latex or polyurethane condoms.
    • Avoid using drugs or excess alcohol in social situations. Intoxication might impair your common sense about taking part in risky behaviours.

Tips for your relationship

  • Communicate with your partner. Talk about pleasing each other. Discussing changes in sexual response, erectile dysfunction or a loss of sex drive will help you deal with the situation.
  • Take your time. Men and women may need more manual stimulation or foreplay prior to intercourse. Find ways to adjust to physical changes.
  • If insecurity about your body (e.g., feeling old or less alluring) is affecting your relationship, talk about it with your partner or a counsellor. Focus on your strengths and be creative in finding ways to feel more appealing.
  • Be patient. Both men and women may notice it takes longer to become sexually aroused than when they were younger.
  • If you’re generally less interested in sex than before, look at other factors that may be the cause, such as stress, fatigue, depression or prescription medications.

Sources: Helpguide© Aging Issues; WebMD; Calgary Health Region

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