Judging from the images the popular media puts forth, you’d think sex was only for twenty somethings. Nothing is further from the truth. Sex at midlife and beyond is a subject mired in confusion and misinformation. Here are some common myths, and the straight story about sex after 50.
Fiction: Beyond a certain age, people have little interest in sex.
Fact: There is no age limit on sexuality, but for people age 50 and over, sexual satisfaction depends more on the overall quality of the relationship than it does for younger couples. A National Council on Aging survey reports that among people age 60 and over who have regular intercourse, 74 percent of the men and 70 percent of the women find their sex lives more satisfying than when they were in their forties.
Fiction: As a man ages, he loses his ability to get an erection.
Fact: Aging itself is not a cause of erectile dysfunction. However, diminishing hormone levels do precipitate some changes. A man may need more physical stimulation to become aroused, and his erection may not be quite as firm as when he was younger—but sex is no less pleasurable. While a 25-year-old man might be able to get a second erection as quickly as fifteen minutes after an ejaculation, a 50-year-old man might need several hours.
Fiction: Emotional and psychological factors are responsible for a woman’s lack of interest in sex at midlife and beyond.
Fact: Physical factors can play an even larger role. Hormonal changes at menopause can affect a woman’s sexual response. Low estrogen levels can result in vaginal dryness, causing discomfort during sex. And in some women, lower testosterone levels can mean a lack of energy and a weaker sex drive. Other women find their interest in sex increases after menopause, due, in part, to a shift in the ratio of testosterone to estrogen and progesterone.
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Fiction: A woman loses her ability to have orgasms as she ages.
Fact: Many women find increased sexual pleasure after menopause, including more frequent or more intense orgasms.
Fiction: Masturbation diminishes your ability to enjoy sex with a partner.
Fact: Masturbation can increase sexual pleasure, both with and without a partner. For women, it helps keep vaginal tissues moist and elastic and boosts hormone levels, which fuels sex drive. For men, it helps maintain erectile response.
Fiction: A man’s inability to get an erection is most likely the result of an emotional problem.
Fact: Actually, physical causes—such as circulation problems, prostate disorders, and side effects associated with prescription medications—account for 85 percent of erectile difficulties.
Fiction: Couples at midlife and beyond who don’t have regular sex have lost interest in sex or in each other.
Fact: When older couples don’t have regular sex, it’s usually because one partner has an illness or disability.
Of course, it’s true that sex isn’t going to stay exactly the same as you age. But the changes that take place aren’t all negative. Once a woman is past menopause and no longer concerned about pregnancy, many couples find it easier to relax and look forward to lovemaking. And partners who are retired or working only part time often have more time and energy for each other, for making love as well as pursuing other shared activities.
By midlife, you know your own body and your partner’s intimately, and, hopefully, you’ve figured out how to communicate what you find pleasurable. It’s likely that you’ve shed any sexual inhibitions, and your sexual confidence and experience probably result in better sex for both of you. Just as important, sex may be more emotionally fulfilling because now it is driven less by hormones and more by the desire to share yourself with someone who loves you. Sex after age 65 may take place less often, but many find it becomes more gratifying than ever.