Sex. It’s not something we talk about in general conversation, particularly when we’re over 60. After all, sex is a luxury that only young people can enjoy, right? And if you aren’t having sex, it’s not like you’ll die of starvation. Right?
Wrong. There’s another kind of starvation that doesn’t involve food. We are emotional beings, and we thrive on love, touching, hugs and kisses. Without these, we can become emotionally starved.
So, let’s talk about sex – its joys, problems, remedies and alternatives.
Can you be too old for sex?
In a word: no. There are all kinds of sexual encounters, not all of them penetrative, but even when you limit your idea of sex to the man-woman missionary position, people continue having satisfying intercourse well into their 70s (and probably even 80s!). In a 2015 GrownUps survey, nearly 85% of respondents thought of themselves as sexual.
However, our bodies do change as we get older, so it’s important to be aware of natural shifts that come with age. For a woman, the changing hormones of menopause can often lower libido, dry out and tighten her vagina, and drive mood swings. She also may gain weight and suffer hot flushes – which by themselves can put her off sex!
As a man gets older, his erections may not be as big or as firm as they were when he was young. It could take longer to achieve an erection, which might drop away more quickly after orgasm. There’s probably a longer wait before the next erection, too.
Men: Performance issues
For a man, erectile dysfunction (ED) is sometimes a problem. Although it’s likely to happen more frequently as you age, most ED (also known as impotence) can be linked to underlying causes, either physical or emotional. High blood pressure, diabetes and some medications can inhibit your erection, as can an enlarged prostate or simply drinking too much alcohol.
Stress takes its toll too. Important events, a death in the family, looming work deadlines or an unwilling, menopausal spouse can affect your ability to perform. Women are similarly affected, so if there’s a problem it’s a good idea for both partners to have a physical check-up, and perhaps psychological counselling.
Women: Pain during sex
For many people, pain during sex is a turn-off. We spoke of vaginal dryness and tightening due to menopause, and for many women, just one painful attempt can put them off sex altogether. Your first and simplest remedy is lubricant, which is cheap and easy to buy at the supermarket or chemist.
If you’re still having problems, check with your doctor – a dry vagina is more vulnerable to infection, and maybe all you need is a prescription. Another source of pain is from contracted vaginal muscles – again, the dratted menopause. You may like to try using a lubricant and a dildo to gently stretch and relax your vaginal muscles.
One of you loses interest
Many of the issues we’ve already covered could cause one or both partners to lose interest. A man who’s never had a problem before could be completely floored by one incident of ED. Menopause’s many side effects are all reasons a woman might seem reluctant.
It could be that your lifestyle or relationship simply need work. Long-term couples can be busy, or get out of the habit of touching or affection.
If you only spend ten minutes on foreplay, it may not be enough – try an hour, or make a ‘date’ and work up to it over a couple of days. Bring the romance back into your life – go out to dinner, bring home flowers and compliment your partner for looking particularly sexy. Above all, be gentle and understanding with each other as you explore variations to your routine.
Positions, places, remedies and alternatives
Sometimes, to get the spice back in your sex life you need to make changes – to the positions, the places and scenarios. It might even be time to explore alternatives to penetrative sex.
Who’s on top?
If you’ve always liked being the jockey in your relationship, you might find your knees objecting now you’re a bit older. You’re not alone – some couples quite happily turn to ‘doggy style’ or ‘spooning’ when neither of them have the knees to cope with being on top. Use pillows for support or a better angle, and whatever you choose, don’t be afraid to experiment.
Get out of the bedroom
It can be a real turn-on to make love in a forest, by a hot pool or in the back of a van. A location away from the bedroom can give you a sense of exhilarating danger, and take you back to your energetic youth. Of course, if you love your bedroom you could decorate it to look like somewhere else and get the same buzz. Dressing up and role-playing can add extra thrills, so go for it!
Don’t forget the lube factor
Lubricants, vaginal moisturisers and even a little Viagra can all enhance your love life. Be playful with these things, and relish the opportunity to give your partner pleasure.
Do it yourself
It might have got a bad rap from some quarters, but guess what? Almost everyone masturbates, and the ones who don’t are probably lying. If you’re having trouble reaching orgasm with a partner, managing it yourself can help. It helps men with erections and women with getting lubricated – and it’s pretty much a case of ‘use it or lose it’.
What else you can do
When standard penetration is just too painful or ED isn’t responding to treatment, don’t despair – there are ways to make love that don’t involve penetration. It’s about loving your partner and expressing that love. Try exchanging massages, making love with your clothes on like a couple of teenagers, using tongues, lips and fingers – just don’t give up!
Be safe when you have fun
Even if you’re past the age of pregnancy worries, condoms are still a must for many of us! Whether you’re starting a new relationship or you’re having the occasional one-night stand, don’t neglect safe sex. You can still catch herpes simplex, gonorrhoea, HIV, syphilis, hepatitis B, trichomoniasis or chlamydia from unprotected sex, and pass them on to a partner too.
It’s a good idea to be regularly tested for STDs, and to encourage a potential partner to do it too. The over-60s are the fastest-growing group for contracting STDs – and that’s not even counting HIV. It’s a jungle out there – be careful!
There’s life – and sex – after 60
You deserve a healthy sex life – it’s important for your happiness and wellbeing. If you’re finding that age or disease are getting in the way, you can consult your doctor for help. Meanwhile, remember that loving is about touching, and romance needs regular feeding to be kept alive. Take steps to reduce pain, experiment with new positions and use all the help you can get – including self-help – to make your sex life what it should be – a pleasure.