Sex after 60: it's alive and well!
by Heather Smith
We're flooded with images that eroticize smooth skin, tight muscles, and a sexual energy on the verge of athletic. As a result, we're
not in the habit of thinking about people over age 60 as sexual. Rather, we may imagine sex as some extreme sport--like snow
boarding--reserved only for the young and buff.
Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. A study conducted this year by The National Council on Aging (NCOA) revealed that
nearly half of men and women age 60 and older enjoy sexual activity at least once a month, and many want to have sex more often than
that. This study, like others before it, shows that aging does not necessarily interfere with sexual appetite and ability. Although
aging does produce sexual changes in both males and females, these changes are not as extreme as many people believe them to be. In fact,
many older couples can
easily adjust to these changes by slightly modifying their love-making practices.
What changes can older men expect?
Contrary to popular belief, normal sexual changes in older man do not include erectile dysfunction. According
to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the majority of men with impotence are older than 65, but the
condition is not caused by aging
itself. Rather, erectile dysfunction is caused by health conditions that might be brought on or worsened by aging, such as
vascular disorders, or prostate problems. Heavy alcohol use and some blood pressure medications, tranquilizers, antidepressants, and
antihistamines may also cause temporary impotence.
Effective treatments for this condition do exist and should be discussed with your doctor. Although they might be disconcerting at first,
the erectile changes that an older man can expect are normal and natural, and don't have to interfere with sexual activity. For example,
- It will probably take you longer to attain an erection.
- Rather than simply being aroused by visual stimuli and erotic thoughts, you may need more direct manual stimulation from your
partner to become fully erect. A hand massage with a lubricant like KY Jelly or the use of a vibrator can turn this inconvenience
into extended, creative foreplay.
- Your erection may be "softer," but that shouldn't impede intercourse. If you're not fully erect enough to enter your partner,
have your partner manually guide your penis inside.
- You may not experience as much warning time before ejaculation; and when you do ejaculate, chances are that you'll release less
- Your refractory period--the time it takes to attain the next erection--will increase. This could possibly last up to 24-48 hours,
but does vary.
What can women expect?
Just as the sexual changes in older men may be exaggerated or misunderstood, so are the changes in women. In the NCOA survey,
more than 1 in 10 people agreed that women have less sexual desire after menopause, while nearly 3 in
10 were unsure. However, a recent survey conducted by Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories revealed that at least 9 out of 10 post-menopausal
women remain sexually active.
Although the sharp reduction of estrogen production after menopause may lessen vaginal lubrication, less lubrication doesn't mean
less arousal. On the contrary! You can still be highly stimulated even without lubrication. However, the scratchiness, itchiness,
pain, and even bleeding, that you may experience during intercourse from post-menopausal changes (lack of lubrication and the thinning
of vaginal walls) might succeed in quelling your sexual desire if you don't seek help.
Help for any pain during intercourse should, of course, begin with a trip to the gynecologist's office and a vaginal examination. But
it's possible that the treatment might be as simple as a trip to the nearest pharmacy and an over-the-counter purchase of KY Jelly--a
water-based lubricant. To make penetration smooth and pleasurable once again, you can apply this lubricant to your partner's penis or
to your fingers. Since KY Jelly dries quickly, other lubricants that stay wet longer, such as Astroglide and Probe, may be more convenient
for intercourse. Make sure not to buy petroleum-based lubricants, because they can cause vaginal infections.
In addition to these vaginal changes, older women may also experience clitoral changes. The fatty tissue, or "hood," that covers the
clitoris thins with age. As a result, the clitoris may become more sensitive and the pressure that was once pleasurable can become
slightly irritating. A woman should share this development with her partner. A simple change in pressure or less direct and continuous
stimulation may solve the problem.
Changes in sexual expression
Many older people, especially women, face greater obstacles to intimacy than just the normal physical changes. In 1997, almost half
of all women age 65 or older were widows, compared to a much smaller percentage of men. After the grieving period has passed, these
women may desire sexual intimacy or just some form of sexual expression again.
Some single older people find a sexual outlet in masturbation. Indeed, more than 4 in 10 men and 3 in 10 women over the age of 70
pleasure themselves this way, according to one Consumers Union survey. In The Widow's Guide to Life, the authors remark that
"the alternatives to masturbation are walking around grumpy, taking tranquilizers, or jumping into bed with the first available man."
Even so, one study of 100 widows found that other alternatives do exist. Older women found erotic expression even in indirect sexual
activities, like wearing attractive clothing and lingerie, or getting their hair done. Spending time with their grandchildren and
expressing their spirituality also helped fill some women's needs for intimacy and affection.
Still, some older women, and men as well, may desire a partner. Organizations, clubs, travel hostels, and bus tours created specifically
for seniors are all possible meeting places. For details on organized senior groups, see our Resources section below. The most important
thing to remember is that people do not stop being sexual at age 60. With or without a partner, an older person can still find infinite
sources of sexual expression. And don't be surprised when people sit up and take notice!
Reprinted with permission from Neil Baum, neilbaum.com
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