Healthy Aging

Could Sex Be Even Better With Age?

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

Despite the misconception that intimate and sexual connection is an activity for the young, for many people, interest in sex doesn’t go away with age.

In fact, according to Phillis Mims-Gillum, M.D., senior staff physician in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Henry Ford Health System, sex may be even more enjoyable during your golden years. Why? Women no longer have to worry about becoming pregnant, and both genders may have developed a better understanding of their bodies, their likes and dislikes, and their needs and desires. The result: Lovemaking becomes more intimate, maybe even more passionate.

In fact, many people have fulfilling sex well into their 80s. To keep those fires burning and help maximize pleasurable sexual activity well into your golden years, here are 5 things Dr. Mims-Gillum suggests you do:

  1. Make sure you’re in good health. Every health condition from head to toe can impact your activity in the bedroom. Conditions that affect the heart, including heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes—and the medications required to treat those conditions—may impact sexual function. Similarly, arthritis, chronic pain, hormonal problems and mood disturbances such as anxiety and depression may negatively affect your interest in sex. Protecting your general health and well-being and talking to your doctor about your concerns can help ensure you enjoy sex throughout your senior years. It is also important to review your medications and recommended treatments with your health care provider and ask about their sexual side effects. Report any problems you note, and ask about alternatives that may be considered.
  1. Embrace change. Aging comes with many physical and biochemical changes. In addition to gray hairs and deepening wrinkles, hormone changes in both men and women may dampen desire. Changes in circulation or declining testosterone levels in men may make it more difficult for them to get or maintain an erection, while lower estrogen levels in women can translate to vaginal dryness and painful sex. The end result: Both genders may need more time or require a little more foreplay and effort to get in the mood and to engage in sexual activity. Keep in mind that as you age, sex may occasionally have to take a backseat to health concerns, pain, discomfort and fatigue. Including intimate touch in your routine can be an enjoyable experience for both that can help maintain connection during these challenging times.
  1. Get creative. Good sex goes far beyond intercourse. It’s also about connecting emotionally and touching. In the face of illness, ailments, functional challenges or disabilities, the recipe for sexual interaction may need to be redefined. Instead of focusing on orgasm or intercourse alone, learn to enjoy the entire journey of intimacy. Hugging, kissing, rediscovering sensual activities you shared early in your relationship and even exploring new options can go a long way toward helping you feel physically and emotionally fulfilled.
  1. Communicate. Communicating with your partner is even more important as your body and feelings change, or if your libidos are not quite in sync. Discussing your thoughts, fears and desires can lead to a more emotionally and physically fulfilling relationship. Open, honest communication about sex can allow partners to work together towards mutual sexual satisfaction. If you’re the one providing care to your partner or spouse, don’t underestimate how that role can affect intimacy. If possible, step out of your role as caregiver from time to time and focus instead on being a partner.
  1. Play it safe. No matter what your age, you should always follow safe sex practices with a new or different partner. Don’t assume people are monogamous or low risk because of their age or social status. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) more than 25 percent of the people living with HIV infection are over the age of 55. People over 50 are getting STIs (sexually transmitted infections) more than ever before. In fact, incidences of syphilis and chlamydia in adults aged 45 to 64 tripled between 2000 and 2010. Store and use condoms correctly. Talk with your doctor about this and other issues such as screening for you and your partner and ways to prevent transmission of infections.

There’s no doubt that having sex as you age improves mental and physical health, to say nothing of its effects on reducing anxiety and stress. Instead of trying to get back to the type of sex you had in your 20s, find ways to enjoy the unique advantages of having sex during your later years.

Not sure where to start? Ask your health care provider for useful suggestions or a referral to a specialist.

To find a primary care provider or make an appointment online, visit henryford.com. Or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

Dr. Phillis Mims-Gillum is an OB/GYN who specializes in sexual health and sexuality counseling, and sees patients for these conditions at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital. Call (248) 661-6425 to schedule an appointment.