Aging and Intimacy
Though your need for intimacy and closeness with others does not end as you age, arthritis and other long-term illnesses can affect your relationships. This handout gives you information about what you can expect and tips for maintaining a healthy sex life. It is normal to have problems with sex. Common problems include:
- Decreased desire for sex
- Fear of increased pain
- Feeling less attractive
- Decreased performance due to stiff joint, limited range of motion, and fatigue
- Side effects of medicines such as fatigue or weight gain
- Emotional issues, such as the loss of friends and family
Your partner may be concerned with the stress of a chronic illness and the fear of hurting you during sex.
Sexuality as You Age
Your sex life is important to your quality of life. It is influenced by:
- Your feelings about yourself and your partner
- Recent losses
- Your past experiences with sex
- Your cultural, ethnic and religious beliefs.
The thing to remember is not to give up. Many older adults have very good intimate relationships. This handout can help you find solutions to common problems. You might also wish to talk with your doctor or nurse about worries or questions you may have.
Common Problems for Women
Knowing about problems you could have with your sex life is important to your health. Although we don't know a lot about sexual function as women age, we do know that it involves emotions, relationships, and physical well being. Some problems may arise from:
- Decreased sex drive. After menopause, hormone levels decrease. This may cause you to feel less desire for sex.
- Decreased arousal. You may feel less excitement during sex. This can be caused by vaginal dryness or other physical changes.
- Painful sex. This may be caused by vaginal dryness, infections, or tightening of the vaginal muscles. It also may be triggered by fear of losing control or having pain during sex.
Common Problems for Men
Most older men want and are able to enjoy an active, satisfying sex life. Listed below are changes you might expect. These are part of normal aging.
- It may take longer to get an erection, but you can hold it longer before ejaculation.
- The erection may not be as firm or as large as in earlier years.
- You may have less control.
- The loss of an erection after an orgasm may be quicker.
- After reaching orgasm, it may be 1 or 2 days before you are able to reach full orgasm again.
Helpful Tips for Both Men and Women
- Get relaxed before you start.
- Engage in sex when you feel least tired.
- Increase time spent in foreplay.
- Try new positions during sex that increase comfort and decrease pain.
- Use pillows to increase comfort and support.
- Use pain pills and other methods of pain relief before you begin.
- Use a vibrator if you are not able to massage because of arthritis.
- Use a vaginal lubricant (KY Jelly).
- Maintain your best health through good eating habits and a proper balance of rest and exercise.
- You may find it helpful to masturbate.
- Ask your healthcare provider to look for medications that may be affecting your sexual activity.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 03/28/2012
Copyright © 03/28/2012 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#5719
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