Have Better Sex as You Age

These days, the stereotype of being sexless as you age is fading. "Even as orgasmic ability and the ability to get an erection declines, satisfaction stays about the same or increases," says Dr. Debby Herbenick, author of "Because It Feels Good: a Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction" and the associate director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation at Indiana University. "People still feel good about their sex lives, and medically, there's no reason most people can't continue to be sexual."

Of course, there are practical complications: A 55-year-old is not a flexible as a 25-year-old; a man in his 60s isn't as vigorous as a teenager. There are aching necks, bad knees and physical problems of the more intimate variety. But ultimately, sex is about connection, the need for which does not decrease with age. "The chance to be sexual is a chance to touch and be touched and to express love and affection and have it expressed to you," says Herbenick. Here, she gives us the rundown on how the older set can maintain a vibrant and gratifying sex life.

Shrug off Stereotypes
Most people heading into retirement were raised in an age when grandmas and grandpas had white hair and walked with canes. But these days, the average life expectancy in the United States is about 78 years, a full decade more than it was in 1950. The seniors of today are, in general, more active than those of previous generations. A study published in 2007 found that nationally, between 50 and 75 percent of adults ages 57 to 85 engage in sexual behavior -- many of them having sexual relationships frequently. Such a high percentage suggests that the over-55 set values sexuality as a vital part of their lives.

Women produce less estrogen, the hormone that is linked to vaginal lubrication, as they age. When the vagina is dry, women may find sex less pleasurable and more painful. Moisturizers and lubricants, however, offer both short- and long-term solutions. "Lubricants dry out quickly, whereas moisturizer keeps tissue frequently healthy," says Herbenick. Prescription vaginal moisturizers, in the form of creams with or without estrogen, can help to restore strength and flexibility to the vagina by providing long-lasting wetness. For those who want a temporary fix, water-based lubricants like KY Liquid or Astroglide help ease dryness during sex. The company Good Clean Love offers natural products.

Because they tend to outlive men by about three years, older women are often left without a partner. "Many older women grew up thinking masturbation wasn't normal," says Herbenick. Overcoming the taboo against self-touch with one's hand or a vibrator, can open up new possibilities for these women. Vibrators often improve sex with others, too. "Older men have trouble ejaculating and may lack sensation, especially due to diabetes, so some get off when the woman holds the vibrator near their penis," says Herbenick. She recommends trying out different options -- Trojan, for example, sells a vibrating cock ring, which can have an effect similar to that of a vibrator.

An erection involves nerves in the brain, spine and genital area, as well as activity in the muscles, tissues, veins and arteries. Damage through injury or illness to any of these areas can result in erectile dysfunction. The likelihood of damage increases dramatically with age: 5 percent of 40-year-old men and between 15 and 25 percent of 65-year-old men have ED. Once considered an untreatable aspect of aging, ED is now often treated with medications like Viagra, Cialis and Levitra. While these are effective, they should never be purchased over the Internet without a legitimate prescription. "The message for men is that you need to talk to your doctor first," says Herbenick, who notes that some pharmaceuticals can interact badly with ED drugs and cause serious health issues.

Be Creative
Most people must modify their approach to sex as they age. Gentle positions like missionary, as well as sex toys and hand stimulation, can make sex fun for those with pain or other limitations. Oral sex, which Herbenick says is "not just for younger people," can be good way to give and receive pleasure. Moreover, a sex life does not have to include intercourse. Herbenick recommends two books that can help people overcome physical problems: "Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk About Sex After Sixty" and "The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability: for All of Us Who Live with Disabilities, Chronic Pain and Illness."

Don't Stress
The expectation of having a rollicking sex life at 60 can feel like a pressure to some. "Now, not only are you supposed to travel the world, but you're also supposed to have an active sex life like you did when you were 40," says Herbenick. For some people, cuddling, kissing or sexual massage are fully satisfying, and for others, sex past a certain age simply isn't appealing -- and if that's the case, a person shouldn't feel the need to maintain sexual relationships that he or she doesn't actually desire.

Protect Yourself
Since a woman usually can't become pregnant after 50, and because so many sexually active people grew up in a time before STD rates were soaring, many seniors don't use protection. In a 2008 study out of England, researchers found that between 1996 and 2003, cases of non-HIV STDs like chlamydia and genital herpes had increased by 127 percent in people over 45. With age, an expectation of monogamy can decrease, resulting in people having multiple partners. "People need to get tested, use condoms, use condoms with lubricants and tell their doctor if they are still having sex," says Herbenick.