Sex in later life
Sexual desire doesn’t disappear as you get older, and it’s natural to continue to want to have sex. Sex in later life may be different to when you were younger, but although you may need to make some adjustments, getting older doesn’t mean giving up on sex.
How do I talk to my partner about sex?
Whether you have been with your partner a long time, or are starting a new relationship, talking about sex is vital to ensure you have a fulfilling sex life.
If you’re in a new relationship, make sure you discuss each other’s expectations. Doing this first will ensure that each of you know what you want from your time together.
Things to discuss could be:
- whether you both want to have a sexual relationship
- your likes and dislikes
- any nerves you have about having sex
- any physical difficulties you have relating to sex.
Even if you’ve been with your partner for some time, talking openly about your needs can bring you closer.
If you find you are struggling to enjoy a fulfilling sex life with your partner because of sexual dysfunction or illness, then talking to your doctor could be helpful.
Relate offer specific sex and relationship counselling for older people
How do I overcome my nerves about sex?
Some people feel anxious about having sex, especially if it’s with someone new, if you are resuming your sex life with your partner after illness, or if you’ve been alone a long time.
Many people feel self-conscious with a new partner. Remind yourself the other person probably feels the same. It’s important to be open with your feelings as this will put you both at ease.
The best thing you can do is take time to relax together. This could mean having a glass of wine, having a chat, or spending time cuddling – whatever works for you.
If you’re struggling to relax:
- some people find that reading erotic fiction can be a fun way of getting started.
- you could try exploring your own body to get familiar with what you do and don’t like.
- pelvic floor exercises can be a good way to relax your muscles.
Sex releases the same chemicals that are released when you exercise. This lifts your mood and can make you feel more relaxed.
How do I overcome sexual problems?
It’s important to be aware that sex might not happen with the spontaneity you enjoyed when you were younger. Men and women may experience different problems, but there are possible solutions and treatments.
Once you reach the menopause around the age of 50, the symptoms can go on for months or years and may knock your confidence.
- Along with hot flushes, night sweats, low mood and anxiety, you may notice your vagina becoming dry, which can make sex difficult. You can buy lubricant online or at the chemist which may help to make things more comfortable.
- You may experience a drop in your desire for sex. If so, your GP may be able to suggest possible treatments.
You may experience problems maintaining an erection. This is quite a common problem which affects over 40% of men aged 60 and over, so you’re not alone. Try not to worry about it, as anxiety can make the problem worse, and be assured that there are things you can do to overcome the problem.
There are lots of causes of erectile dysfunction: it could be a physical or emotional issue, or relate to medication you are taking. Other common sexual dysfunctions could include premature ejaculation or a loss of sexual desire.
It's best to talk to your GP to find out what might be causing these problems, and about possible solutions, which may include medication for impotence such as Viagra. You should always seek medical advice from your doctor before trying any impotence treatment, especially if you are taking medication for other conditions such as high blood pressure.
Problems like these can lead one or both partners to feel disappointed or rejected. Talk together as a couple and know that the causes for sexual problems can often be addressed by medication, therapy, or trying new things together.
Boosting your confidence
If you find that you are feeling a lack of confidence in the bedroom, this can affect your desire for sex.
Our society places great emphasis on looking young in order to be attractive and this can lead some older people to feel that they are no longer desirable. But you can be confident and attractive at any age.
To help boost your confidence you could:
- treat yourself to some new underwear
- try out some scented products like body oils or lotions
- try a new hair cut
If you’re self-conscious about your body, adopting a healthy diet or taking up regular physical activity can help boost your confidence as well as give you more energy.
- See our free guides Healthy eating and Healthy living for ideas.
Do I need to use contraception?
According to research, rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among older people have doubled in the past decade. Contraception isn’t there just to prevent pregnancy, it reduces the risk of contracting an STI or passing one on to someone else too.
An STI is an infection passed from one person to another through sexual contact, and sometimes by genital contact. Common STIs include genital warts, chlamydia, HIV and gonorrhoea.
If you’re sexually active, whether you’re heterosexual, gay, lesbian or bisexual, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of having an annual sexual health check because not all STIs have symptoms. If left untreated, some STIs can have serious health problems.
- Find out more about the symptoms of STIs at NHS choices.
- You can make an appointment for tests at a sexual health or Genito-Urinary Medicine (GUM) clinic – some are drop-in centres.
- The NHS Choices website tells you more about what to expect when you go to an STI clinic.
If you are seeing a new partner you should continue to use condoms to prevent getting an STI. You should only stop using condoms if you and your partner are both clear of STIs.
Can I still have sex if I have health issues?
Sex is good for you - it can boost your immune system, lift your mood, and make you feel closer to your partner. However, if you have health issues, it’s sensible to check with your GP before you resume your sex life to make sure you are fully fit to do so.
Sex and heart problems
If either you or your partner has had recent surgery or a heart attack, it's important to be signed off by your consultant, usually around four to six weeks after treatment.
Read information on sex and heart conditions on the British Heart Foundation website.
Sex and joint problems
If you experience joint pain or have arthritis, the physiotherapy department of your local hospital may have some leaflets or information about what positions can help you enjoy sex with greater comfort.
Read information on sex and arthritis on the Arthritis Research UK website.
Sex and long-term illness
If one of you has had a serious or long-term illness, it can really affect your sex life. You may be worried about hurting or overexciting your partner, or if your illness has left scarring or required amputation, you may worry whether your partner still finds you attractive. Illness may have also changed the nature of your relationship, making one of you more dependent on the other than before.
It’s really important to communicate and talk about your concerns and feelings with your partner. You could try new things together, to see what feels good for both of you. You could also talk to your GP about your concerns, especially if sex causes physical pain or discomfort.