Photos: Ebby May

From our changing bodies to adjusted attitudes, understanding intimacy as we age.

Anyone who has a few wrinkles or grey hairs can attest to it: body parts change as we age. All body parts. But while sexual function in your 60s may not look the same as it did in your 30s, it doesn't mean the cobwebs are closing in. Numerous studies prove that interest in sex often continues into a ripe old age. So does activity. An American study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that a majority of seniors age 65 to 74 are sexually active. In the U.K., the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) reports that of non-single women in their 80s, 41 per cent enjoyed a roll in the hay within the past year. We don't have similar research on Canadians at this age, but a Trojan survey of 2,400 mid-life Canadians found that the oldest group (55-59) got the same amount of pleasure from sex as the youngest (40-44). Advancing age is not holding anyone back.

But the older body is different. And in order to stay sexually active later in life, adaptations might need to be made or treatments sought – or minds opened. "Making love is expressing your feelings for your partner in a physical way. It could include intercourse but it could include other activities," says Dr. E. Sandra Byers, professor and chair of the department of psychology at the University of New Brunswick, who has researched sexuality and aging. "You just need to find ways to pleasure each other and feel good about it." Desire can also go down if the relationship is strained—something that's often missed, says Byers. "I see people who are looking for some kind of medical explanation for a sexual problem, but they're fighting all the time. Who's going to feel desire for someone you're not getting along with?"

Information is half the battle, say experts. "All the way through life, you should know what's happening with your body and why," says Roselle Paulsen, director of programs at Sexuality Education Resource Centre (SERC) Manitoba. "It reduces anxiety and helps you feel more comfortable with yourself." Communication in your relationship, she says, is also vital. "Figure out what you and your partner find erotic. Have those conversations."

Adds Byers: "People need to create new sexual scripts, new ways of making love that are mutually pleasurable, that work for both partners." Here's what might lie ahead—and what you can do to make sure your sex life continues to thrive as you age.

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