Sex in later life
Sex in later life doesn't need to be different to when you were younger. Although you may need to make some adjustments, getting older doesn’t mean giving up on sex.
Many older people enjoy an active sex life, and why not? Your sexual health is an important aspect of your overall wellbeing. Sex releases chemicals, called endorphins, which lift your mood. This can help to relieve stress and make you happier. But you might have questions about some of the logistics...
The menopause can affect women differently. Some women experience vaginal dryness which can make sex uncomfortable. To relieve these symptoms, try using a vaginal moisturiser or lubricant.
Some types of soaps and shower gels can make vaginal dryness worse so try and avoid them using lukewarm water alone instead. But if the symptoms persist it may be best to speak to your doctor.
Most men develop erection problems as they get older. The cause can be physical or psychological but can often be alleviated by simple lifestyle changes, such as losing weight or stopping smoking.
However, if erection problems persist for more than a few weeks it's best to see your doctor, who may prescribe you medication or give you treatment options.
Some people find that these changes cause a lack of confidence in the bedroom. 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.
Your sex drive
Reduced sexual desire can be due to a number of reasons including falling levels of sex hormones in both men and women, age-related health problems and side effects of medications. Problems with sexual desire can lead to one or both partners feeling disappointed or rejected.
Taking time to relax together can often improve sexual desire. This could mean having a glass of wine together, spending time cuddling or having a chat. Additionally, having discussions about reduced sexual desire and why it might be happening can help put you both at ease.
It’s common for women to lose interest in sex around the time of the menopause, but hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can often help with this. HRT is used to relieve symptoms of the menopause by replacing hormones that are at a lower level as you approach the menopause.
Sexually transmitted infections
Health promotion messages give the impression that condoms and concerns about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are applicable to young people only. However, age does not protect you from STIs.
If you have a new sexual partner, or more than one sexual partner, unprotected sex could put you at risk of getting an STI. Condoms are the only form of contraception that will help to protect you from STIs so it's importanrt to use them.
If you’re worried you might have an infection, talk to your doctor. You can also get tested for these infections are sexual health clinics.
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.
- 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.
Your physical health
Our physical health can change as we get older and we can become more likely to develop different health conditions, such as heart conditions, arthritis and dementia. If you've been diagnosed with a health issue it's sensible to check with your doctor before resuming your sex life to make sure you are fully fit to do so.
The emotional stress that comes with a diagnosis can also impact your sex life. Your partner may be worried about hurting or overexciting you, 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 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 doctor about your concerns, especially if sex causes physical pain or discomfort.
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.
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.