Sex: a guide for the older generation

Posted on: 19 April 2011 by Rhian Mainwaring

We've teamed up with NHS Choices to to discuss common ailments affecting sexual health is an important part of a loving relationship at any age. However, the way you experience sex is likely to alter as you get older due to the various physical changes that your body undergoes. To help you to have better sex safely, NHS Choices explores some common problems that people experience when having sexual relationships as they get older. 

Vaginal dryness 

As women get older they can experience pain during sex, also known as ‘dyspareunia’. This is common after the menopause as oestrogen levels fall resulting in women experiencing vaginal dryness. There are a couple of simple ways to relieve this problem, so making sex more pleasurable:

•Avoid intimate washing with soap, bath oils and shower gels – they can aggravate dryness. Instead, use lukewarm water alone or with a soap-free cleanser. 

•Try using a lubricant such as KY Jelly, Astroglide, Sylk, Senselle or Replens. These are available from pharmacies without needing a prescription. 

If these measures don’t help, then visit your GP as they will be able to prescribe hormone treatment.

Lack of sex drive 

Some women also find that they lose their desire for sex after the menopause. It’s normal for sex drive to reduce over the years, but it can be made worse by depression, menopausal symptoms, relationship problems and stress.

These problems are often temporary and being able to talk things through with an understanding partner may be all that’s needed. However, if symptoms of the menopause or of depression persist, then it may be best to see a doctor for treatment. 

Some men can experience a lower sex drive as they get older due to the fact that testosterone levels fall as men get older. Not all men are affected by this, but those who are will have symptoms such as feeling tired and unfit, and loss of interest in (and sometimes an inability) to have sex.  

Low testosterone can be treated with hormone replacement therapy, so men suffering with these symptoms should visit their GP. Some men may also benefit from psychosexual therapy, which is a form of relationship therapy where you and your partner can discuss any sexual or emotional issues or concerns.

Erectile dysfunction 

Erectile dysfunction, otherwise known as impotence, is when a man can’t get, or keep, an erection. Most men experience it at some time in their life, but it becomes more common as men get older. There are a number of reasons as to why a man may experience erectile dysfunction, such as: 

  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Raised blood pressure
  • Raised cholesterol: this can lead to clogging of arteries, including the arteries in the penis, which are very narrow: 1-2mm in diameter compared with around 10mm in the heart artery  
  • Low testosterone
  • Some prescription drugs: these can include medicines (such as beta-blockers) used to treat raised blood pressure, and antidepressants, antipsychotic drugs and anticonvulsant drugs 
  • Alcohol  
  • Recreational drugs, such as cannabis and cocaine  
  • Smoking, as nicotine affects the blood supply to the areas of the penis that cause erections

If you or your partner is experiencing erectile dysfunction, go and see your doctor, as they will be able to give you or your partner a physical examination and carry out blood tests to identify the cause.  They can then work to help find a suitable treatment for the problem.

STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections)

STI’s are a growing problem amongst the older generation. In the UK in 2009, STI diagnoses in the over-45 age group included 5,356 people with genital warts, 3,025 with genital herpes and over 1,225 with gonorrhea. In the same year, over 12,000 HIV-positive adults over the age of 50 were receiving treatment for living with HIV.  

Therefore, if you are embarking on a new relationship it’s important that you use protection. Condoms are the only method of contraception to protect against STIs. If you and your partner get the all-clear from an STI check-up, and neither of you is having sex with anyone else, then you know it is safe to stop using condoms.

Sex can certainly be good for your wellbeing. Being touched, hugged, stroked and having orgasms all appear to make people happier. So, if you or your partner is suffering with any of these common problems visit your doctor, as getting older need not be a barrier to you continuing to have a happy and fulfilling sex life. 

For more information about sex or any other health related topic visit NHS Choices:  

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