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Sex and Aging in Men


Men’s sex lives change with age. Diseases that become more common with age, such as heart disease and diabetes, can affect a man’s ability to achieve and maintain an erection, for example. A normal drop in testosterone may lower their interest in sex. But not all changes are for the worse. A man can have an altogether satisfying sex life in his golden years. In fact, a man’s sexuality remains an important part of his masculinity throughout his life.

A look at the numbers

In 2018, the University of Michigan conducted a poll that focused on sexual health in older adults. They found that 76% of people between the ages of 65 and 80 had a romantic partner, and more than half of those people had an active sex life. And it was the men who were more likely to be active. Nearly three-quarters of men in this age group said that sex remained an important part of their relationships.

How sex changes with age

Just like women, men’s bodies change as they age. In addition to weight gain and loss of muscle tone, their skin begins to sag. This can lead a man to worry that his partner will no longer find him sexually attractive. And that can spoil the mood.

On the other hand, the risk of pregnancy no longer exists. You also may have more time, fewer distractions, and greater privacy. And you may be more comfortable expressing what you want sexually. All that can contribute to an enjoyable sex life.

The biggest concern for most men, though, is the ability to have an erection.

Erectile dysfunction (ED)

When a man gets older, it may take longer for him to achieve an erection, and that erection may not be as firm as it once was. That’s normal. So is failing to achieve an erection from time to time, due to things like stress, loss of sleep, drinking too much alcohol, and more.

ED, on the other hand, causes persistent trouble getting and staying erect, and it is quite common. It affects about 30 million men in the United States, and it becomes more common with age. Fewer than one in four men report ED at age 40. By age 70, nearly half of man have ED.

As mentioned up top, diseases that often accompany aging raise the risk of ED. In addition to heart disease and diabetes, high blood pressure also can lead to ED. All of these conditions affect the circulation of blood throughout your body and limit blood flow to the penis.

Why does that matter? When a man becomes sexually aroused, blood vessels in a part of the penis called the corpora cavernosa relax and expand. This allows additional blood to flow into and fill them. When this happens, the penis becomes erect. But if that blood does not flow normally, because of disease or other reasons, erections become more difficult to achieve and maintain.

On top of that, many medications, including some of those prescribed to treat these conditions, also may make it harder to have an erection. Lifestyle factors play a significant role as well. Smoking and lack of exercise are known contributors to ED. Smoking constricts (narrows) your blood vessels, inhibiting the flow of blood. Lack of exercise increases your risk of heart disease.

The good news is that none of this is inevitable. A healthy lifestyle can reduce your chances of developing ED by helping to prevent the chronic diseases that contribute to it. That means regular exercise, a nutritious diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and quitting smoking.

If you have trouble with erections, talk to your doctor about the types of changes you can make to help improve them. Your doctor also can prescribe medications to help with erections, such as Viagra, Levitra, and Cialis. Ask your doctor to review your current medications to see if any of them may be to blame.

Sexual desire and libido

With age often comes a drop in a man’s sexual desire, or libido. One possible contributing factor: As men get older, their testosterone level slowly declines. It goes down approximately 1% per year starting around age 30.

Testosterone is the main male sex hormone, and it fuels a man’s sex drive. The less testosterone you have, the lower your interest in sex may become. Some loss of interest in sex is normal with age. However, if you lose most or all of your interest in sex, you may have a condition called hypogonadism, the medical term for low testosterone.

It also can contribute to ED as well as cause a host of other problems, including:

  • Mood problems, like anxiety and depression
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle loss
  • Infertility
  • Osteoporosis, or weakened bones

Fortunately, available treatments can raise your testosterone back into the normal range. This can restore your sex drive and help resolve other symptoms as well. A blood test and a review of your symptoms will tell your doctor whether or not you have hypogonadism.

Your mood affects your sex drive

Mood disorders also may impact your ability to have sex. For example, depression is common among older people, according to the National Institute on Aging. A 2021 study found that about one in five older men in the US has symptoms of depression.

When you are depressed, you lose interest in the things that you used to enjoy, including sex. Depression also lowers your energy level, your self-esteem, and your ability to feel pleasure. No wonder you don’t want to have sex when depressed.

Depression is a highly treatable disease. Unfortunately, some of the drugs used to treat it can make it harder to perform in the bedroom. If this is a concern for you, tell your doctor.

Other emotional problems that can contribute to sexual difficulties include anxiety, stress, and relationship problems. Don’t hesitate to seek psychological counseling for such issues. Such treatment can help you get your groove back.

Conclusion

How to maintain an enjoyable sex life as you age:

Open up. If you struggle with the changes you are going through, talk to your partner about your concerns. Don’t keep your worries to yourself. That can lead to anxiety, which only makes it harder to enjoy sex.

Embrace change. If you have problems with intercourse, try something other than penetrative sex. Sometimes referred to as ‘outercourse,’ this can include things like oral sex, mutual masturbation, erotic massage, and more. Talk to your partner about what you both like or want to try.

Be patient. It may take you longer to get aroused, so enjoy that time with your partner instead of rushing to the main event.

Seek help. A sex therapist can help you adjust to your new normal as well as address specific issues that you are having in the bedroom. Ask your doctor for a referral.

Key takeaways

Diseases that become more common with age, such as heart disease and diabetes, can affect a man’s ability to achieve and maintain an erection.

Surveys found that 76% of people between the ages of 65 and 80 had a romantic partner, and more than half of those people had an active sex life.

A healthy lifestyle can reduce your chances of developing erectile dysfunction by helping to prevent the chronic diseases that contribute to it. That means regular exercise, a nutritious diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and quitting smoking.

Maintain an enjoyable sex life as you age by being open with your partner, being patient during sex, and seeking counselling with a sex therapist.

References:

Boston University School of Medicine. Epidemiology of ED.

Cleveland Clinic. (2019). 7 Simple Ways for Men Over 50 to Improve Their Sex Life.

Cleveland Clinic. (2019). Erectile Dysfunction.

Cleveland Clinic. (2018). Low Testosterone (Male Hypogonadism).

Harvard Medical School. (2016). Older men: Rethinking a healthy sex life.

Mayo Clinic. (2022). Senior sex: Tips for older men.

Mayo Clinic. (2020). Sexual health and aging: Keep the passion alive.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2017). Definition & Facts for Erectile Dysfunction.

National Institute on Aging. (2022). Sexuality and Intimacy in Older Adults.

University of Florida Health. (2019). Drugs that may cause erection problems.

University of Michigan Health Lab. (2018). Sex After 65: Poll Finds Gender Differences, Lack of Communication.

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