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Healthy Living

Sex and the Elderly

There is a widespread tendency to assume that old people are too old for sex. It is difficult for many people to think of men and women late in life (especially of their parents and grandparents) as having sexual feelings, sexual relationships. This attitude is ill-founded and grossly unfair and stems largely from the society's current emphasis on youth and youthful attractiveness.

People, who have enjoyed sex earlier in life, can and continue to do so in their old age. Although the ageing process may make it necessary to adapt their love-making to some extent, most old people remain capable of intercourse for as long as their general health permits.

People, who choose to be sexually active in their later years, must understand the bodily changes that are occurring in them, due to the ageing process. It should come as no surprise to them to realise that sexual anatomy and physiology are also subject to change with age.

The ability to enjoy love making (sex) can continue well into old age, particularly if a couple make the effort to understand and respond to the various changes that age brings to the natural pattern of sexual response. All too often, older people give up intercourse because they mistakenly interpret these changes as signs of impending impotence. Love-making may have to be a more leisurely affair as a couple gets older, but the benefits of maintaining the sexual aspect of the relationship into old age can be great.

Changes in Sexual Response that takes place in the Elderly

Women

As women get older, sexual arousal may take a longer time. Menopause does not usually reduce a woman's sex drive. Intercourse may, however, be made painful by vagina dryness and thinning of the vaginal walls. These changes are caused as a result of reduced production of the hormone, oestrogen. The reduction in the level of oestrogen produces less lubrication in the vagina and makes it dry. There is also a reduction in the tissue elasticity of the vaginal walls, again due to reduced oestrogen levels, which makes the vaginal walls thin and leads to shrinkage of the vaginal barrel. This shrinkage is further accelerated by lack of regular sexual intercourse. All changes can produce discomfort and in some persons, pain during sexual intercourse. This dryness, discomfort and pain can be overcome by taking hormone pills or by using local application of hormone creams in the vagina. As mentioned earlier, regular sexual intercourse will go a long way in preventing the vaginal shrinkage and help in maintaining good sexual health.

Men

As they get older, they require a longer time to get a penile erection. Not only that, they require a more direct tactile (touch) and intense physical stimulation to get and maintain an erection. Psychological stimulation (sexual thoughts, sexual fantasies), which was sufficient to produce an erection when younger, becomes less and less sufficient. Even the ability to perceive the touch declines with age. An elderly man may require not only physical (tactile) but also prolonged stimulation. Studies in America revealed that men aged between 48 to 65 took on an average five times as long to achieve an erection as men aged between 19 and 30. However, once an erection is achieved, an older man has the advantage of being able to maintain it for much longer periods.

Due to a decline in perceiving tactile sensations, an elderly man may have some difficulty in regaining an erection, if he has not ejaculated. Contractions of the penis and other glands during climax are not as strong as in younger age and hence the force of ejaculation is reduced. The seminal fluid is thinner and reduced in quality. Even so, orgasm (climax) remains a pleasurable experience. After an ejaculation, the elderly man tends to lose his erection very quickly and it may be some time – hours or even days –before he is capable of getting another erection.

The golden rule to be remembered is that nobody is too old for sex. It is not how old you are, it is how young you feel. If one wants to enjoy sex in later life, one should have enjoyed it in younger age. And one should continue to enjoy it, taking into consideration the bodily change occurring in old age. More regular the intercourse, the less painful it will be and more satisfying.

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