You’ve probably noticed that if the topic of sex and seniors comes up when your children or other young ones are around, that invariably you get a disgusted look appearing on their faces. Or you may get the response, “TMI” (Too Much Information).
Apparently, our children seem to think that sex should stop by age 50. Funny though, as they are closer to 50 now than 25, we don’t hear any mutterings that their sex lives are approaching termination.
The fact is that when it comes to sex, “It ain’t over till it’s over!”. Seniors are sexually active and can be so until well into their 90’s. In an interveiw, the well-known fitness guru, Jack Lalanne and his wife stated that they were still sexually active into their 90’s. Sex is a normal part of life and there is actually great benefit keeping it up into your later years.
1. Sexual activity is pleasurable and is a form of intimate connection with your partner. A healthy sex life usually indicates a degree of trust and bonding in a relationship.
2. Sexual activity is actually good for your cardiovascular system. Your heart rate goes up and there is a burning off of calories. It is far more beneficial than watching TV.
3. Regular sexual activity can enhance the immune system and there have been various studies showing that to be true.
4. Sexual activity and orgasm has a physiological effect on the brain. It stimulates the release of endorphins (the “feel good chemicals”). This creates a general feeling of wellbeing. Some, during sexual activity and orgasm experience almost a meditative state.
5. Sex tends to reduce stress and anxiety. During sexual intercourse one becomes very focused and while it may be a form of escapism, it’s not a bad way to go.
Some Physiology and Challenges with Aging
Sexual response has two phases. The first is DESIRE and the second is AROUSAL.
Some of us continue to have much desire for a sexual relationship, well into our 90’s, even when there is not much opportunity to act on it, while many, both male and female, for various reasons, can lose the sense of passion and desire, even when there is a willing partner.
A friend who was in her early 80’s, rekindled a relationship with an old flame. After a few steamy weeks, this ended, mainly because of geographical obstacles. She was feeling very frustrated, she had both her desire and arousal sparking, but no opportunity. She decided to get a vibrator, which she found quite pleasurable. A few months later, she decided to ditch the vibrator because she was afraid that if she died, her son would go through the top drawer of her night table and discover it. I felt sad that she was depriving herself of pleasure because of what her family might think.
While there may be desire and passion, there may be difficulties with getting aroused. For women this may be hormonal or due to anatomical changes which make intercourse uncomfortable, which of course is distracting. For men, difficulty getting an erection can be very frustrating. For some men this is related to illnesses, medications or anxiety. While for the young, sexual performance may be taken for granted, as we age, there are certain problems that can impede sexual activity.
In men over the age of 65, there is a 60-70% chance of developing partial or total impotence. This is usually related to reduced blood flow. Circulation starts to suffer as we age and also conditions such as diabetes causes reduce blood flow leading to penile dysfunction. A reduction of the hormone Testosterone can also impair how a man functions. This can start even in the 40’s but some men have no difficulty even into their 80’s and 90’s. Modern medicine is now very helpful. Medications such as Viagra and related drugs, or in severe situations, penile injections can be very helpful. Often the medication is only needed occasionally, as the brain (which experiences the desire and build up of arousal) is not communicating efficiently with the genitals. Once they get their teamwork going, medication may not be necessary.
One of the aspects that gets ignored, is that, what stimulates arousal in men and women is different. Women are very good at creating sexual fantasies in their minds. This is why romantic novels appeal to many women because they are able to imagine themselves in the characters in a book and continue the story even when the bedroom door closes on the hero and heroine. Men on the other hand are visual. They need to see the actual arousing body parts or see pictures of them, which is why men tend to view pornography more than women. Particularly as men age, they need more stimulation to achieve arousal from pictures or videos. Unfortunately most women do not understand how men are so different and are critical of their partners or feel that they themselves are not sexy enough.
When we were younger there was a degree of spontaneity about sex. As we age, we need to plan for comfort and find positions that do not aggravate our joints etc. Sometimes if penis, vagina intercourse is not possible, experimenting with other pleasurable activities can help fill the gap. At the basis of good sexual relationships is closeness and connection, more so as we age.
In conclusion, sex is normal and desirable; it’s part of life. Society is gradually accepting that this applies to seniors as well. Enjoy!