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Being older (let us say over the age of 65) does not necessarily mean that men and women have absolutely no interest in sex; quite the contrary. Too often, the automatic assumptions of younger people, for example an healthcare provider in her middle 30s, are that the silver-haired man sitting down in front of her with cane in his hand never thinks about sex, does not want sex, and certainly never has sex. Not so. He may walk slowly and rise a little hesitantly from a chair, but that does not mean he is not interested in sex, and certainly does not mean he does not want to or does not actually participate. Some older persons may not be interested in sexual activities for many reasons, but for a great number of individuals, their sexuality remains, and they want it to remain a great part of their lives.
The prevailing assumption is that because older men and women have fewer male and female sex hormones, they are automatically placed into the menopausal group, which translated, means they cannot, and do not, want to do anything sexual, and never consider participating in sexual activities. Obviously, many older individuals have problems associated with older age; less agility and dexterity, bodily fatigue, limb weakness, an ostomy, pain, visual and auditory changes, being without a current partner, or bone and limb issues, among others, that can all result in diminished sexual activities. Some men may not attain or maintain a stiff erection, and some women may have less vaginal lubrication than they would like. However, do not mistake a person of an older age with an illness or who is less than able-bodied with being a person who is incapable of having sexual activities resulting in sexual pleasure for both partners.
There are also many benefits to getting older. Freedom from fears of pregnancy, freedom from care of their young children with their squabbles, interruptions, and distractions, and associated worries; freedom from financial worries, from employment challenges, from the need to get ahead professionally; freedom from disastrous love affairs, with their tears and jealousy; freedom from in-laws; the list is virtually endless. Things also seem better about one’s personal self: increased self-confidence, higher self-esteem, fewer worries (especially what others think about you), love of family, partner, children, and grandchildren.
Here are some tips to addresses the changes associated with older age that impact sexual activities and result in sexual problems.
- Discuss with your healthcare provider if your current medications affect sexuality.
- Ensure both partners are aware of the symptoms of menopause in women and andropause in men. Menopause includes night sweats, absence of periods, irritability, headaches, hot flashes, labile emotions, and irritability in his female partner. Andropause or ADAM (androgen decline in aging male) is less dramatic and acute in onset and presents with depression, fatigue, tiredness, weakness.
- Avoid downplay of recent disappointing sexual activities, and encourage discussion of solutions to the factors that contribute to that disappointment.
- Encourage experimentation and creativity, and developing a new sexual script.
- Promote emotional and physical intimacy as the staunch and steady companion of sexual activities, without which attempts at a successful sexual relationship may fail.
- Know that intimacy is perceived and described differently when people are asked. Some intimate acts include touching, smiling, sharing, loving, tenderness, unity/oneness, connecting, liking, familiarity, comfortable and comforting, calmness and calming, appreciation, closeness, and friendship .
- Work with your partner to white flag old battles, minimize small squabbles, and forgive any pettiness of years ago; doing so will reduce old baggage and old hurts that adversely affect intimacy and sexuality.
- If there is an uncomfortably greater age difference, discuss this openly with your partner so you both have the opportunity to share opinions.
- If possible arrange for sexual activities in the early afternoon, when both are not tired, having taken pain medications if needed.
- Be prepared, anticipate operational problems, but enjoy the adventure .
- Remember to wear a condom or dental dam even though you may be out of practice in application. Neither person is immune to acquiring an STI, passing an STI to his male or female partner, or a man to impregnating his female partner.
- The use of fantasy and erotica in its many forms is encouraged, either alone or with his partner— sensual and sexual books, romance books, movies, the Internet, paintings, magazines, among others.
- If one or both partners have an illness, pain, muscle spasms, dexterity issues, or a disability that impedes sexual activities, work through each obstacle, and experiment with positions, pillows, lubricants, massage, sex toys, sex devices, and wise use of pain medications.
- Be totally engaged in sex and willing; if not, do not continue just for the sake of it.
- Convey that it is not an increased frequency of the sexual activities that is sought, but the quality that you and your partner enjoy.
- Encourage the use of humor, laughter, and keeping conversations lighthearted during experiments with positions and change in usual sexual practices; it will be fun and well worth the effort.
See Dr. Grace Blodgett’s book, Understanding Patients’ Sexual Problems, on Amazon.
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