Sex may be all the rage with Millennials and younger generations but when it comes to Baby Boomers and people over the age of 60, it’s often presented by the media as a somewhat of a taboo topic. Is sex something people are supposed to be having in later life, or is it something we’re simply meant to leave behind with our youth?
Starts at 60 spoke to two sex experts about what’s “normal” when it comes to getting intimate in older age, whether or not over-60s really have difficulty opening up about sex and the best ways for people to be intimate with their partners in later life.
By the time most people have reached the age of 60, they’ve likely experienced sex. But not every generation learns about and views sex in the same way.
“If you grew up in a time when sex was viewed very privately and public displays of sexual content were incredibly rare, it seems likely that this would impact your willingness to talk about such things openly,” Denton Callander, Senior Research Fellow of the Sexual Health Program at UNSW Sydney’s Kirby Institute, told Starts at 60. “The same kinds of sexual services, content and spaces that exist for young people have not traditionally existed for older people – older women in particular. Of course, older people are sexual but it becomes a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Meanwhile, Dr Tammy Nelson, certified sex therapist and consultant for dating website Ashley Madison, explained that despite what the media says, over-60s may be more comfortable talking about sex than younger people.
“Women feel more comfortable than younger women in their bodies, even though they may be concerned about ageing and the decline of a more youthful appearance, they are more confident in the way that they approach sex, they know how their bodies work and how to derive pleasure when they want to use their bodies,” Nelson explained. “Both men and women know what they like by middle age and are less hesitant to ask for it in relationships.”
There’s no denying that ageing impacts the body as people grow older and this is the same when it comes to sex in later years. Like many health issues, there often isn’t a ‘one glove fits all’ approach to sex and people don’t always experience the same changes.
For men, one of the biggest problems can be with erections.
“Men over 60 have a longer period of time in between their ability to achieve an erection,” Nelson explained. “At age 19 it might take 20 minutes in between one round of sex and another – but at 65 it might take two days before a man can achieve the erection he desires for a second time. This doesn’t mean that men are incapable of arousal or of achieving an erection.”
Men can and do continue having intercourse in their 80s and 90s, with medication including Viagra, Cialis and Levitra helping men tackle erectile problems. It’s always important for men to discuss these issues with a GP or health professional, or before trying new treatments.
As Callander explained, men also experience changes in their hormone production in later life which can shape their interest in sex.
For women on the other hand, menopause can significantly impact their interest in getting saucy between the sheets.
“Women, of course, go through significant physiological changes before, during and after menopause and this can affect the kinds of sex they want to have,” Callander explained.
The vaginal tissue in women can also thin, meaning they require more lubrication when it comes to sexual activity. Just as men can continue having sex into their 90s, women can also continue to experience orgasms in their later years.
“Women can have clitoral and vaginal orgasms into old age and should continue to masturbate in order to keep the tissues of the labia and vagina supple,” Nelson said.
While some unpleasant changes can be experienced, it’s important to note that older age doesn’t mean sex can’t be enjoyable or fun for both men and women.
“Change can also mean growth, as research finds that many people become more sexually open and adventurous as they age,” Callander said. “Experience is certainly a great teacher, as it can help people understand their and their partners’ bodies better, which can enhance sexual pleasure.”
Meanwhile, Nelson explained that rather than people focusing on achieving orgasms, sex becomes more about pleasure for many over-60s.
“Keeping up with a healthy interest in sex helps keep both the physical and the emotional relationships for men and women young and alive,” she said.
Sex is something that’s different for all people and there’s actually no quota when it comes to the amount of sexual activity people should be experiencing as they age.
“There is no ‘should’ when it comes to sex, except maybe to say that people should have as much or as little sex as they want,” Callander said. “Regarding frequency, some couples may find that they disagree about how often they should be having sex, which is not uncommon.”
Talking openly about sexual wants and needs with a partner is important, while the internet can assist single people who are looking for a new romance. With so many dating websites on the market, it’s important to be safe, do the research and find a website or app that suits the specific needs of the individual.
Recent research from Ashley Madison found an incredible 90 per cent of people over the age of 60 who were surveyed were looking for physical and sexual intimacy above everything else. Just 27 per cent of people wanted emotional intimacy, while 32 per cent of people said they were looking for companionship.
It’s important to understand that sex can be defined in many different ways, and people will often be able to judge whether a sexual activity is pushing their body too much or too hard. This is something that shouldn’t be ignored.
“It’s always a good idea to trust your body and if you’ve had some kind of surgery or a physical injury, it is best to ask your doctor specifically about what limitations that may impose upon sex,” Callander explained. “I firmly believe that there are a million ways to have fun sexually and so not being able to do a couple of things may seem like a downer but can be easily overcome with a bit of creativity, which seems far better to me than risking further injury.”
It’s also important, particularly for men, to understand certain erectile medications come with side effects and can react with other medications such as those for heart conditions. In these cases, it’s vital to discuss sex life with a health professional.
While the risk of pregnancy is minimal or non-existent for most older couples, safe sex is something that still needs to be practiced in older age. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are still possible in older people and while campaigns and GPs tend to focus on younger members of society, they’re something over-60s also need to be aware of.
“The best thing to do is talk to your doctor (or a sexual health doctor if that’s easier) and seek their advice but some tried-and-tested safer sex strategies include using a condom and getting regularly tested,” Callander said.
IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.