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Better in bed: How can sex change as you age?

As you age, you are probably experiencing a whole lot of different physical and mental changes to your body – but you probably aren’t thinking about how it will impact you in the bedroom!

Last updated: September 15th 2022
Your body and mobility can change as you age, and that may impact your sex life. [Source: iStock]

Your body and mobility can change as you age, and that may impact your sex life. [Source: iStock]

Key points:

  • Ageing and medical issues can have an impact on you in the bedroom
  • Couples may be unsure how to navigate issues in the bedroom if they are used to routine
  • Communication is key to sorting out any issues you are facing as a couple, including your physical intimacy

While it may be difficult to talk about, sometimes even with your own partner, it is completely normal for your relationship and experiences in the bedroom to change.

Sometimes your bits and bobs just don’t work as they used to – and that’s okay! It just means that it may be time to get a bit creative with how you express physical intimacy with your partner.

Clinical and counselling psychologist Elisabeth Shaw, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Relationships Australia New South Wales, says that it is important that you and your partner are able to continue your relationship as you have, which includes being able to express yourselves sexually.

“If a couple has had sex as an important part of their relationship, they need to be taken seriously about some of these things and be encouraged and celebrated for the need to keep this part of their physical expression alive,” explains Ms Shaw.

So why can sex change as you age and in what ways can you improve and continue sexual intimacy with your partner?

Changes that can impact sex

There are generally two ways an older person’s sex life can be impacted:

  • The effects of ageing

Your body may not function as well as it used to. For instance, you may take longer to get a full erection or you experience vaginal dryness. Both examples are common experiences for older people, and couples will need to learn to navigate these experiences. Some older people may be embarrassed to discuss issues like these that they are having with their partner.

  • The result of a medical issue

Medical issues could be caused by surgery or injury and impact your sex drive. For example, you may have prostate surgery which has led to part or permanent impotence. Similarly, ovarian cancer or gynecological surgery may leave you unable to have intercourse. These medical issues can lead to longer-lasting impacts on your ability to physically express yourself.

While many older people can experience adverse medication reactions, you may not realise that your medication is also impacting your sexual function.

Some antihistamines, antihypertensives, anticholinergics, antidepressants, antipsychotics, and minor tranquillisers can impact your libido and performance in bed.

Sex can become routine

You may not even realise it, but many couples fall into a ‘routine’ with their partner when it comes to physical intimacy.

Ms Shaw explains, “I think it is really important for couples to be able to talk and be open to exploring new things.

“Some couples get into a set routine, so when something happens to their sex life, they feel a bit stumped.”

A sudden change to your normal routine may throw you off and leave you wondering how you can fix the problem.

It is important during this time to not get disheartened but to instead be creative in how you face this challenge.

“For some couples, there is great pleasure in rediscovering other aspects of physical experience,” says Ms Shaw.

“I had one couple describe to me that it almost felt like being in the back seat of their parent’s car when they were 18. It’s like going back to that, the couple found it a lot of fun, and that is the sort of spirit you need.”

Tips to improving your sexual relationship

Ms Shaw says there are a number of ways you can make changes to improve your sexual relationship with your partner or get around new changes to your body. There are six top tips for improving your sexual relationship, says Ms Shaw.

1. Communication is key

If an issue comes up that impacts you in the bedroom, it is important to discuss this with your partner.

While talking about sex can be awkward, it can be really important to learn about each other and what you like and dislike.

“What I find is couples don’t have a language to talk about it, they aren’t even sure, really, how to refer to what they engage in or their body parts or what they like and don’t like,” says Ms Shaw.

“The couples who do have a language, familiar words they use, or a way of talking, they are admittedly able to talk about it with the least embarrassment.”

While it isn’t uncommon for older people to have engaged in a sexual relationship without discussing it often, these couples can experience a “cold start” when these awkward conversations do arise.

Having open conversations about what issues or problems you may be facing in the bedroom can make all the difference.

2. Don’t let shame in

When your body stops working the way it used to, it can feel a bit embarrassing. It can be vital for each person not to let shame come into the conversation.

It is easy to get embarrassed when talking about sex or having issues in the bedroom, but shame should never be put on any person within the relationship.

Embarrassment and shame can result in a person avoiding that sexual pleasure or the conversation altogether.

“Certainly it is true when one person’s issue is unresolved and they are not able to talk about it or they talk about it without being taken seriously, then that can cause problems in other parts of the relationship,” adds Ms Shaw.

3. Get creative

If you want to continue having that intimate relationship with your partner, it may mean trying and exploring new things you haven’t done before.

Ms Shaw says that couples who get into a routine may view intercourse as the “holy grail” or “main goal”. However, a change in your body can mean you rediscover the pleasures of other aspects of physical experience.

She suggests lingering over other areas, like touching, caressing, massaging, cuddling and kissing, rather than getting straight to the finish line.

“Older people can enjoy that and feel very close as a result of savouring those aspects of the relationship that perhaps were otherwise a bit dismissed previously,” explains Ms Shaw.

If you are having issues with vaginal dryness, Ms Shaw recommends introducing lubricant into your sexual play. She says it may take time to get used to the addition in your life, but it can be a really helpful way of combatting some of those physical changes.

Additionally, Ms Shaw says it is important not to rush anything and to take your time savouring the experience of being physically intimate with your partner.

It is important to acknowledge that your “bodies aren’t working like they used to” and to work together as you have on every other part of your relationship over the years.

4. Do research

Ms Shaw is a big fan of older people using Google to search for information and advice in regards to what is happening with their bodies.

Research can help you learn more about yourself and your body, as well as your partner, and provide creative solutions to issues you may be having in the bedroom.

“Don’t just look up the limitations, but look up the possibilities! Let yourself get educated rather than be shut down,” says Ms Shaw.

Once you have a better understanding of what may be happening to you or your partner, you can put appropriate interventions in place to continue having a healthy, sexual relationship.

5. Don’t let people dissuade you from having a sexual relationship

You have probably joked about not wanting to think about your own parents having sex, but there is a likelihood of your children also thinking the same thing. And sometimes this can extend to health professionals as well.

You may find that your doctor or other health professionals aren’t as supportive of you being able to have sex or live a sexually viable life.

Ms Shaw wants to be clear that you should not be dissuaded from living a life that includes sex.

“There is an ageing bias and there will be a lot of people around you that think you shouldn’t be engaging in that sexual experience,” explains Ms Shaw.

“In society, there is an assumption that older people are not driven by physical needs anymore and that actually isn’t true.”

She says if you come across any doctors, nurses or health professionals that are not supportive of your wish to continue physical intimacy with your provider, you should search for another doctor or health professional.

6. Get expert help

If you feel like you have done enough searching for resources to assist with your bedroom manner, then it may be time to seek the help of an expert.

Ms Shaw recommends visiting your General Practitioner as a good place to start when trying to find information, resources and advice.

You may even find engaging a sex therapist helpful to assist in getting tips and advice to get around any issues you are facing.

Additionally, there are sexual health clinics in each State and Territory that may be able to assist with the issues you are facing.

How have you and your partner adapted to ageing changes in the bedroom? Tell us in the comments below.

Related content:

Tips for successfully dating later in life
Dating when you’re older: how to find that connection
What age is considered old?


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