From the colour of our hair to our taste in music, plenty of things can change as we grow older – and sexuality is no different. Sadly, we live in a world that often casts these changes to our sexuality in a negative light.
Both sexual desire and sexual attractiveness are seen as the domain of the young. The “ticking biological clock” is often used to frame women’s sexuality as something that is finite, running out, and a source of irrational, desperate sexual decision-making in middle age. Older women who display sexual desire are often mocked in popular culture, while the image of the “dirty old man” conflates older male sexuality with lasciviousness.
It’s common that certain physical signs of arousal, such as erection and lubrication, alter as we get older. In addition, our levels of desire and arousal, sexual preferences, the kinds of activities we’re interested in, the people whom we’re attracted to and their genders, the intensity of sexual pleasure we feel, what we fantasize about, how often and in what ways we masturbate, and the frequency and nature of our orgasms, can all change as we age – and may change many times over a lifetime.
Some people continue having active, fulfilling sex lives, alone or with others, as long as they live. Others might not, and might not want to: like everything related to sexuality, it’s highly personal and each person’s choice is a-okay.
During and after menopause, the body produces less estrogen, progesterone and testosterone than before, and this change in hormone levels usually has some noticeable effects. During peri-menopause (the 2-10 years before periods stop completely), you might experience hot flashes, night sweats and mood changes. Some, but not all, people experience a decrease in libido during or after menopause.
One common physical consequence is vaginal dryness: the vagina produces less lubrication than before menopause, and the lubrication it does produce tends to be less viscose. Using more lubricant, and/or a thicker or longer-lasting lubricant, can help with discomfort caused by dryness. Silicone and oil-based lubricants are particularly long-lasting. Regardless of sexual contact, applying a moisturising lubricant to your vulva and perineum regularly (for example, after you shower) can be helpful. Try massaging the lubricant into the skin, as this promotes blood flow to the area.
Menopause and aging also cause changes to the vulva, which loses its fatty deposits. The skin (as on the rest of the body) loses elasticity, making it more prone to tearing – another great reason to use extra lube. The vagina tends to shrink in size, and both the vaginal walls and the labia become thinner.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) reduces all of these symptoms, as does topical estrogen cream. Estrogen cream does not affect the level of estrogen in the bloodstream, meaning that it can be used by transmasculine folks without causing any of the changes associated with estrogen levels.
People with penises will most likely also notice changes in their body’s sexual responses as they grow older.
After the age of 50, it is common that erections are less firm and less upright than they were earlier in life. You might also find that getting an erection requires more direct genital stimulation than when you were younger. Ejaculation itself is usually less forceful, and the time between ejaculations may necessarily be longer. Some folks with penises also experience less intense or less frequent sexual desire as they grow older.
People with penises also have a pubococcygeus, or PC, muscle. Keeping the PC muscle strong – as well as general physical fitness – can help support a fulfilling sex life in older age. Check out our Pelvic Floor info page for more information.
Some medical conditions that are more common in older age, such as diabetes, heart conditions and circulation problems, slow blood flow in the body. With slowed blood flow comes decreased sensitivity to touch, which can of course have an impact on what feels good sexually.
Many medications have an impact on levels of desire and sexual functioning; if you are taking prescription medication, your doctor should be able to talk you through any side effects and support your informed decision-making.
Changes in your and/or your partner’s body might mean that sex at sixty looks quite different than it did 20 years earlier A narrow definition of sex as “penile-vaginal penetration until male orgasm & ejaculation” is limiting for everyone. The cultural onus on this kind of sex can be particularly harmful for those for whom this kind of sex is no longer pleasurable or possible due to changes associated with aging.
Infrequent, softer erections and vaginal sensitivity that renders penetration painful don’t need to mean the end of sex. They might be invitations to creativity, change and exploration of the wide spectrum of ways in which one, two or more people can experience sexual intimacy and pleasure.
If you want to talk to someone about adapting or expanding your sexual range later in life, feel free to speak with one of our sex educators at Other Nature.
There are lots of positive aspects to being an older, sexual person – or to having an older lover. Many people find that their sexual confidence and capacity to experience pleasure increases as they grow older. With years of experience behind us, we might know our own bodies significantly better at 60, 70 or 80 than we did at 20, 30, or 40. Whether we have had one partner or many, our ability to communicate our sexual wishes and to identify those of another can also grow immensely over time.
Many people report that their sex lives in later life greatly improve, citing factors such as more time available after retirement, fewer responsibilities after children have left home, no longer having to worry about contraception after menopause, greater self-confidence and less concern for what others think of them.
At Other Nature, we’ve helped people from 18 to 88 and firmly believe that there’s no right or wrong age to explore your sexuality. Whether you’re looking for an organic moisturising lubricant or think it’s finally time to explore that blindfold fantasy you’ve had for fifty years, you are welcome here.