Aging & Health A to Z
Causes & Symptoms
Your body goes through many changes as you reach and pass the age of 65. Some of these changes may get in the way of your ability to enjoy sex, or to carry out sexual activity comfortably. Other parts of aging may also contribute to sexual difficulties.
The following are common causes and risk factors that increase your risk of having sexual difficulties as you get older:
- Medicines that reduce sexual arousal, response, or desire. These include certain antidepressants, antipsychotics, antihistamines, medicines for blood pressure, stomach ulcers, heart medicines (beta blockers), and diuretics (“water pills”).
- Lower natural levels of hormones. These include testosterone (in men) and estrogen (in women, after menopause) as well as other important hormones.
- Medical conditions that make sexual activity difficult, tiring, or painful. These especially include arthritis, urinary tract infections, incontinence, prolapse of the uterus, endometriosis, vaginal infections, cystitis (urethral infections), or heart or lung diseases.
- Circulatory (blood vessel) diseases, including atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes. These diseases increase the risk of erectile dysfunction.
- Prostate surgery or radiation.
- Smoking habit (increases risk of erectile dysfunction).
- Nerve diseases or conditions (such as a spinal cord injury from a “slipped” or herniated disc, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or stroke).
- Anxiety about body image and desirability.
- Relationship problems.
- Other psychological problems. These can include problems such as performance anxiety, where a man feels so nervous that he won’t be able to get an erection that his anxiety prevents an erection. Other problems are worrying about a heart attack or worrying about being “undesirable” after a mastectomy (breast removal for breast cancer).
If you are experiencing difficulties in your sex life after beginning a new medication, tell your healthcare provider. You may benefit from a switch to another product, or to a lower dose.
Symptoms and Warning Signs
If you are a man, you may have noticed that it started taking longer to achieve a full erection once you reached the age of 60-65. Your erection may also not be as firm as it was when you were younger. It may take more time to reach full arousal, orgasm, and ejaculation as well.
For women, menopause brings a reduction in the production of estrogen, as well as other hormones important to sexual health. You may notice side effects of this, such as
- Less lubrication and more vaginal dryness during sex.
- Pain during sexual intercourse. This can be caused by dryness, vaginal atrophy (thinning of the vaginal walls), or other reasons. The pain may include a psychological factor. For example, worrying about pain can make it harder to get aroused, which means that lubrication is decreased. The decreased lubrication contributes to pain during intercourse, even if the vaginal atrophy has been successfully treated.
- Slower sexual arousal and general loss of libido (interest in sex).
- More difficulty achieving orgasm, and need for more foreplay and direct clitoral stimulation.
- Experiencing reduced sexual sensations, which leads to lower response.
- Fewer and weaker orgasms.
- In some women, painful contractions during orgasm.
Updated: October 2017
Posted: May 2012