Sexual Health

Basic Facts

All older adults, no matter their gender or sexual orientation, should have the opportunity to enjoy a satisfying and fulfilling sex life. In fact, most older adults do, even if interest in sex and sexual activity declines to some extent with increasing age. This decline occurs regardless of gender, and is normal. Part of healthy aging is knowing how your sexual responses and feelings change, and learning how to enjoy your sex life despite these changes.

Changes in Sexual Health & Aging

As we age, our bodies go through changes that may get in the way of the rewarding sex life enjoyed when we were younger. For example, hormone levels decrease, medical conditions may affect sexual performance, chronic pain may get in the way, and surgery can have a severe impact on sexual response. Also, some medications to treat illnesses may themselves cause sexual difficulties.

Unfortunately, you may feel uncomfortable reporting sexual problems to your healthcare provider. This is not uncommon, especially for older women. But satisfying sexual intimacy is an important and rewarding aspect of healthy aging, and treatment can often help.

You may benefit from the care of an expert therapist trained to help you achieve a satisfying sex life as you age. A therapist can be identified on the website of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists. Individuals who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender can find a list of providers on the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association website.

What are Sexual Health Concerns?

You may notice problems coming up in your sex life relating to things like:

  • Sexual performance
  • Reduced arousal
  • Pain during sex
  • General lack of interest in sex
  • Loss of climax (orgasm)
  • Worry or anxiety that interferes with sex
  • Reduced frequency of sex
  • Physical obstacles arising from diseases or health conditions

Common Sexual Concerns in Older Adults

For women, age-related changes are often due to menopause and include:

  • Lack of interest
  • Difficulty with vaginal lubrication
  • Inability to reach an orgasm
  • Lack of pleasure
  • Reduced sensation
  • Pain during sexual activity

Discomfort from a medical condition such as a urinary tract infection or arthritis may prevent carefree enjoyment of sex, too. Also, some women may be influenced by cultural pressures that do not encourage sexuality in older women. Depression and relationship difficulties may also make it difficult to enjoy sex. 

For men, the most common sexual problem is erectile dysfunction or ED (impotence). The chance of experiencing ED increases with age. ED is defined as an inability to maintain enough of an erection to carry out sexual intercourse. 

How Common are Sexual Concerns for Older Adults?

Researchers have found that about half of sexually active women between the ages of 75-85 report lack of interest in sex. For more than four out of 10 older women, reduced vaginal lubrication is a problem. Almost four out of 10 women are unable to reach a climax, and a quarter of women report no pleasure from their sexual activity. About one out of 10 older women has pain during intercourse. 

ED is by far the most common sexual difficulty in men. The likelihood of experiencing ED increases with age. Nearly 75% of men have experienced impotence at some point by the time they have reached age 75. Also, older men take part in sexual activity much more rarely than they did when they were younger. While young men normally engage in sex 3-4 times per week, only 7% of men in their 60s and only 2% of men over age 70 report having sex this often. After the age of 80, only 15-25% of men engage in sex.

Updated: October 2017