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Answers About Sex and Aging
For some seniors, getting older comes with a set of unique emotional, social and sexual issues.
By Dennis Thompson Jr.
Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
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Enjoying an active, healthy sex life is not a pleasure reserved for the young, and many seniors value their sexuality. However, emotional, social, and physical issues revolving around sex and aging can sometimes hamper a senior’s ability and desire to remain sexually active.
Among the challenges the elderly face are natural changes in the body that occur as we age as well as the loss of a beloved, long-term sexual partner and a host of emotional difficulties that can hamper sex. But sex and aging don’t have to be mutually exclusive if you understand and are then able to address these issues.
Sex and Aging: The Loss of a Partner
Losing a life partner, either through death or in some cases divorce, is a life-altering event, and it can be challenging to meet someone new, especially for seniors.
Finding and developing a new relationship is a problem often faced by women because women typically outlive men by five years and are less likely to remarry after losing their partner. A study conducted by the Center on Aging at the University of Chicago found that women without a partner have an increasingly harder time meeting the right person or finding an opportunity for sexual activity. And as the difficulty of finding a partner increases, women gradually lose interest in sex.
Even if you are fortunate enough to start another relationship, this can bring its own set of worries. A widow might feel as though she is emotionally betraying her late spouse by pursuing a new sexual interest. A man may fear that he won’t be able to perform adequately for a new partner, especially if it's been a long time since his last relationship.
Body Changes That Affect Sex as You Age
Studies have found that both women and men may experience poor self-esteem due to concerns about how they look as they age, and this lack of confidence can create problems with their ability to function sexually. Men in particular haven’t developed strategies for dealing with these physical changes and may doubt their sexual abilities.
Many health problems, such as diabetes or heart disease, can directly interfere with sexual capability. Other illnesses may leave you too tired for sex. People with progressive neurological disorders like dementia also find it increasingly hard to partake in and enjoy sex.
Sex and Aging: Emotional Issues
Emotional issues often need to be addressed so that they don’t keep seniors from enjoying sex:
- Anxiety.Money worries or fear regarding the state of the world can cause the elderly to become so anxious that they have trouble enjoying sex. Men and women may also experience performance anxiety.
- Anger.Little slights and hurts can build up over time, eventually creating major rifts in long-term relationships.
- Boredom.It's easy to fall into a rut when you've been married for a long time, especially if family responsibilities don’t leave time for sexual creativity or for sex itself.
- Infidelity.Cheating destroys trust and ruins intimacy. Couples may need counseling to get past a betrayal.
While these problems are challenging, they can be overcome. Meeting new people, exploring new sexual styles for a changing body, and seeking couples counseling all are options for maintaining an active sex life, no matter what your age.
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