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Sex and sexual challenges in your senior years – What will happen and how to handle the changes

Sexual interest and pleasure don’t automatically decrease with age for most people. Older people can still enjoy pleasure and intimacy, through sex, and also reaffirm their shared feelings of love, affection, and warmth. 

There are in fact some advantages of having sex at an older age; men are more confident and experienced in the act of sex, and women don’t have to worry about getting pregnant anymore. 

"Having sex at an older age becomes more sensual and intimate"

However, our bodies change as we age and couples might experience change along with challenges in their sex lives. This means they may need to adjust sexual activities to accommodate their health, physical status, and other changes. 

Let’s explore some of the changes that happen in sexuality as we age.

What are some of the sexual changes to expect?

couple walking on the beach

As we grow older, aging comes with some physical changes in both women and men. These new changes can in some cases, affect the ability to enjoy the quality of sex. Aging in men can be associated with the risk of developing senior erectile dysfunction. 

"Erectile Dysfunction is essentially the inability to maintain a meaningful erection"

Some men may discover that their erection is less firm and smaller than it used to be. They may also produce less ejaculate when they orgasm or sometimes lose erection faster after they orgasm. Senior erectile dysfunction is not actually an issue if it happens every now and then, however, if it occurs more often, you should talk to your doctor. 

Decreased testosterone levels

As men become older, the rate at which they think about sex will decrease. This can be because of the declining levels of testosterone.

"Senior men do not become turned on as easily as when they were younger"

Testosterone is the hormone that fuels your sexual drive. When men get past 40, the level of testosterone begins to decrease which in turn then gradually drags your libido down with it. If you have erection problems or maybe you’ve lost your sexual desire, it can be based on a lower level of testosterone. 

Low testosterone levels can be caused by a variety of condition including:

  • Hormone Disorders
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Kidney failure
  • Depression
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Certain genetic conditions
  • Injury to the testicles

Erectile Dysfunction

Man looking worried

Another major sexual change and perhaps the most frustrating senior men will come across, is the inability to get an erection. Erectile dysfunction, (ED) also known as impotence, is the inability to have, and sustain, a strong erection suitable for sexual intercourse. The condition often occurs at any age in a man’s life, but it’s more common in senior adults. Infertility, low sex drive, and premature ejaculation are NOT the same as ED, but one or more of these issues may be linked to it. 

The much more common condition is the occasional inability to achieve an erection, and this can occur as a result of various reasons such as extreme fatigue or too much drinking. 

"The inability to achieve a meaningful erection less than 20% of the time is considered normal and one will rarely need treatment"

However, failure to achieve an erection more than 50% of the time is an indication that there is a physical or psychological problem, maybe even both, that needs to be treated. 

ED generally becomes more common as men get older. The blood flow to the penis (required for an erection) slows down with age and you have to work a little harder to get aroused. ED can’t be blamed entirely on age, as there are many other factors that come into play. Read more about those below.

How can you then get over erectile dysfunction and what are the causes?

man looking at fall forrest

From a purely mechanical point of view, an erection is hydraulic in nature –extra blood flows to the penis, held there for a while and then drained away. 

"If there is any interference with the blood flow, you might not get the erection that you want"

The most common reason for blood flow interferences is a process known as atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a condition where you will experience artery-clogs. The primary consequence of atherosclerosis is the accumulation of plaque (usually from cholesterol) inside the arteries. This plaque can inhibit the flow of blood through the artery to the penis and prevent you from having an erection. Having high cholesterol is, however, quite easy to cure. By maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle. 

Other contributing factors of ED include heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity.  Depression, stress, hormone disorders, injuries to the penis and some surgical procedures can also play a role in erectile dysfunction. Staying healthy and having an exercise plan can help you get better.

"Lifestyle and personal habits such as excessive alcohol, smoking and use of some drugs and medications can also contribute to erectile dysfunction"

Other contributing factors of ED include:

  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity.

Lifestyle and personal habits such as excessive alcohol, smoking and the use of some drugs and medications can also contribute to erectile dysfunction.

How can you treat erectile dysfunction

Exercising and being healthy can help in some areas of ED, but other than that there are many treatments for erectile dysfunction. Some of the most popularly are the prescriptive drug such as PDE-5 inhibitors. They work by improving blood flow to the penis.

Other options include: 

Other options inculde: 

  • Vacuum Devices
  • Surgery
  • Implants
  • Penile Injections 

Before opting for any of the mentioned methods above, you need to find out the primary cause of your ED. In some cases, simple lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking and drinking alcohol and losing weight could be all you need.

Most importantly, check with your doctor to find out if your vascular system is in order. Remember, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, and high blood pressure can all damage arteries, which is the leading cause of ED. 

Finally, make sure you eat right. 

"Foods rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts, fish, and whole grain can all help to keep you healthy"

You should also try to limit refined grains, red and processed meat, and junk food.

Peyronie's Disease and Erectile Dysfunction

Elderly man thinking and worrying

Peyronie’s disease is a penis disorder caused by scar tissues known as plaque. The tissue forms inside the penis and can cause it to bend instead of having a straight erection. Many men with this condition can still engage in sexual intercourse. However, some may feel pain and experience erectile dysfunction. Researchers are not exactly sure what the main cause of Peyronie´s disease is, but it has been linked to genes and penis injuries. 

Can this condition be treated then?

In a short word: yes!

For some men, Peyronie’s disease will improve on its own without treatment. Doctors often recommend waiting for 1-2 years before trying to correct it. If you need treatment, your doctor might recommend medicine or surgery. Surgery is however often reserved for men who are unable to have sex because of this condition.

It has also been suggested that using a vacuum/penis pump can help correct the curvature, but we recommend that you talk to your doctor before starting any treatment on your own.  

How can I cope with a partner who has a low sex drive?

Senior couple talking to a doctor

However perfectly matched you seem to be as partners, at one point or another, you will experience moments of mismatched libidos/sexual drive as a couple, and that’s okay. Whenever this gets tricky and frustrating is if your partner has a consistently lower sexual drive than you. That doesn’t, however, mean that you should sit back and wait until they change. 

"You have an equal responsibility of changing how you handle the issue of sexual desire and intercourse"

First of all, don’t take it personally. Even though it can be frustrating to have your advances rejected repeatedly you shouldn’t feel that as a reflection on you or your relationship in general. Instead, you need to understand that your partner’s low sex drive isn’t about you or your attractiveness. They might be going through an emotional, psychological, health or hormone deficiency. Take some time and talk about it with your partner and try to find out the underlying cause of your partner’s low sex drive. 

If the underlying cause of low sex drive is health issues this can be addressed and taken care of. You might even suggest visiting a doctor together to show your support and strive to find a solution together. If it’s an emotional issue, try to let your partner know how it makes you feel and see if you can work out a new approach to your sex life together. 

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