My Sexual Health

Key Concept

Some loss of sexual drive is likely as we age, but we live in a sex obsessed age, so our expectations of ourselves and our partner are often unrealistic. For many sex is a taboo subject, but it is vitally important that we speak about the changes we are experiencing.


To look at some of the factors that impact on our sexuality as we age and to consider how we can respond to the changes that occur.

Our Sexual Health

Normal aging brings physical changes in both men and women. These changes sometimes affect one's ability to continue an active, satisfying sex life sex with another person.

Some women enjoy sex more as they grow older. After menopause or a hysterectomy they may no longer fear an unwanted pregnancy. They may feel freer to enjoy sex. However if a woman believes that looking young or being able to give birth makes her more feminine, she may begin to worry about how desirable she is no matter what her age. That might make sex less enjoyable for her.

She may notice changes in her vagina. As she ages, her vagina shortens and narrows. The walls become thinner and also a little stiffer. Most women will also have less vaginal lubrication which could affect sexual pleasure. A pharmacist can suggest over-the-counter, water-based vaginal lubricants.

As men get older, impotence becomes more common. Impotence is the loss of ability to have and keep an erection hard enough for sexual intercourse. By age 65, about 15 to 25% of men have this problem at least one out of every four times they are having sex. A man may find it takes longer to get an erection. His erection may not be as firm or as large as it used to be. The amount of ejaculate may be smaller. The loss of erection after orgasm may happen more quickly, or it may take longer before an erection is again possible. Some men may find they need more foreplay.


A Caution

We remain sexual beings, but performance changes so it essential for you and your spouse to talk about sex. If you are single, divorced or widowed , take care. Retirees have one of the fastest growing incidences of STDs in any population group. As a generation we didn’t really use condoms, we had the pill and anyway, since menopause condoms weren’t necessary. But AIDS hadn’t been invented when we were young and kids use condoms nowadays to protect themselves from STDs – we need to do the same!


Another Caution

Be cautious about using pornography to spice up your sex life. Unless you and your partner are both turned on by pornography, you will be setting yourself up for failure. Neither of you is likely to be as rampant or as flawless as the porn-stars; and porn situations are works of fiction, so how can your partner compare?


What Causes Sexual Problems?

Illness, disability, or drugs you take to treat a health problem can affect your ability to have and enjoy sex. But, even the most serious health problems usually don't have to stop you from having a satisfying sex life.

Chronic pain. Pain can lead to sleep problems, depression, isolation, and difficulty moving around. These can interfere with intimacy between older people. Chronic pain does not have to be part of growing older and can often be treated.

  1. Many men with diabetes do not have sexual problems, but this is one of the few illnesses that can cause impotence. In most cases medical treatment can help.

Heart disease. Narrowing and hardening of the arteries, known as atherosclerosis, can change blood vessels so that blood does not flow freely. This can lead to trouble with erections in men, as can high blood pressure (hypertension). Some people who have had a heart attack are afraid that having sex will cause another attack. The chance of this is very low.

  1. Loss of bladder control or leaking of urine is more common as we grow older, especially in women. The extra pressure on your abdomen during sex, might cause leakage and cause some people to avoid sex. The good news is that this can usually be treated.
  2. The ability to have sex is rarely damaged by a stroke, but problems with erections are possible. It is unlikely that having sex will cause another stroke. Someone with weakness or paralysis caused by a stroke might try using different positions or medical devices to help them continue having sex.
  3. Some drugs can cause sexual problems. These include some blood pressure medicines, antihistamines, antidepressants, tranquilizers, appetite suppressants, and diabetes drugs. Some can lead to impotence or make it hard for men to ejaculate
  4. Too much alcohol can cause erection problems in men and delay orgasm in women.


Do Emotions Play a Part?

Sexuality is often a delicate balance of emotional and physical issues. How you feel may affect what you are able to do. For example, men may fear that impotence will become a more common problem as they age. But, if you are too concerned with that possibility, you can cause enough stress to trigger impotence. A woman who is worried about how her looks are changing as she ages may think her partner will no longer find her attractive. This focus on youthful physical beauty may get in the way of her enjoyment of sex.

Older couples face the same daily stresses that affect people of any age. But they may also have the added concerns of age, illness, and retirement and other lifestyle changes. These worries can cause sexual difficulties. Talk openly with your partner.

If your male partner is troubled by impotence or your female partner seems less interested in sex, don't assume they don't find you attractive anymore. There can be many physical and emotional causes for their problems.


What can you do?

There is a lot you can do to continue an active sex life. Follow a healthy lifestyle-exercise, eat good food, drink plenty of fluids like water or juices, don't smoke, and avoid alcohol. Reduce the stress in your life.

Sex does not have to include intercourse. Make your partner a high priority. Pay attention to his or her needs and wants. Take time to understand the changes you both are facing. Try different positions and new times, like having sex in the morning when you both may have more energy. Don't hurry - you or your partner may need to spend more time touching to become fully aroused. Masturbation is a sexual activity that some older people, especially unmarried, widowed, or divorced people and those whose partners are ill or away, may find satisfying.

See your doctor regularly. And keep a positive outlook on life.


What Is Testosterone and Why Does It Decline?

Testosterone is a hormone. It's what puts hair on a man's chest. It's the force behind his sex drive.

During puberty, testosterone helps build a man's muscles, deepens his voice, and boosts the size of his penis and testes. In adulthood, it keeps a man's muscles and bones strong and maintains his interest in sex. In short, it's what makes a man a man (at least physically).

After age 30, most men begin to experience a gradual decline in testosterone. A decrease in sex drive sometimes accompanies the drop in testosterone, leading many men to mistakenly believe that their loss of interest in sex is simply due to getting older. They also feel excessively fatigued, weaker, depressed - all common symptoms of a drop in testosterone.

Erectile Dysfunction

Dealing with erectile dysfunction (ED) can be difficult on a relationship. But, sexual intercourse is not the only way to be intimate with your partner. There are sexual and non-sexual ways to remain close.

  • Talk about your feelings: Sharing the way you feel about each other can make the two of you closer. Open dialogue with your partner about each other's needs and concerns helps to overcome barriers to a healthy relationship.
  • Participate in common interests: Hobbies, sporting activities, or volunteer activities can bring couples closer together when they share interests.
  • Make time to be alone together: Try taking a bath together, sharing a candlelight dinner, taking a walk, or just holding each other in bed.
  • Experiment with alternative sexual techniques: Learn new sexual techniques that can bring pleasure without intercourse. Many bookstores carry books on alternative sexual practices.
  • Talk to a sex counsellor: If ED is straining your relationship, consider seeking care from a professional therapist.
  • And finally, have fun trying new and different techniques, positions, accessories, etc. There is hope for ED, and you can have a fulfilling and satisfactory sex life. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.

An occasional problem achieving an erection is nothing to worry about. But failure to do so more than half of the time at any age may indicate a condition that needs treatment. Are you at risk?

  1. Are you overweight
  2. Do you have any of the following conditions?
    1. Diabetes
    2. High cholesterol
    3. Depression
    4. Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries from plaque)
    5. Kidney disease
    6. High blood pressure
    7. Spinal cord or nervous system disorders
    8. Any type of pelvic surgery
  3. How much do you
    1. Smoke
    2. Drink alcohol
    3. Use recreational drugs
  4. Do you often feel stressed?
  5. Do you exercise less than once a week?


Too many YES answers could put you at risk. So have a look at these 2 slideshows.

Discussion Assignment – My Sexual Health

The (good) advice in this Module is all very well if it applies to someone else. We also tend not to be truthful (even to ourselves) when we consider our sexual health. So here is an opportunity to come clean.

What concerns do I have about my sexual health?

What has helped when my sexual health has declined?

Talking about your concerns will help others to talk about theirs – and in so doing you will come to appreciate that you are not alone in your concerns. Remember that the Discussion Forum is anonymous.

Discussion Forum

Next module : My Financial Health

There are 2 aspects to managing your Financial Health - how you manage the money you already have, and, for many retirees, how do you continue to generate an income in your retirement?

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