Great sex at any age

When my grandfather remarried at age 70, the prudes in the family were aghast… it was purely for companionship, they told everyone.

I’m not so sure: In-between her hip problems, his insomnia, their warm meals at lunchtime and daily walks to the post office, there was lots of quiet time in that household. While Viagra wasn’t an option back then, my grandfather was an affectionate and virile man. Why wouldn’t he and his new wife have enjoyed a sexual relationship?

Provided a person is in good health, has a positive open attitude about sex, and has, obviously, a compatible partner, there’s no reason why regular sexual activity can’t occur at any age. The need to be loved, cuddled, stroked, held and caressed, is innate, and even if we can’t dance the way we used to, the song plays on in our minds. At the end of the day (or in the middle of the afternoon), sex is about feeling good.

At least once a week, half of 45- to 59-year-olds are sexually active, according to a 1999 study sponsored by a U.S. seniors organization; same goes for about one-third of men and one-quarter of women aged 60 to 74. Furthermore, a 1988 study published in the Archives of SexuaBehavior reported sexual interest and behaviour among men and women between the ages of 80 and 102.

Be prepared for physical change

Just be prepared for normal physical changes as time goes by, says Dr. John Lamont, a sexual therapist and director of the Sexual Medicine Unit at Hamilton Health Sciences Corp., Henderson Campus, Hamilton, Ont. Generally, it takes longer for everything to happen in the bedroom.

Says Dr. Lamont: “Both men and women need more direct genital stimulation to achieve the same level of arousal as they get older – and that’s just a normal process of aging. It’s going to take you a longer period of time to achieve the same level of satisfaction you enjoyed in your youth.”

The nitty-gritty? For men, it takes longer to achieve an erection and it may not be quite as firm or as large as before; also, the intensity of ejaculation and orgasm decreases. For women, lower estrogen levels during and after menopause cause vaginal changes: a loss of lubrication, less flexibility, and the vagina shortens and becomes thinner. (At the same time menopause can cause a hormone surge, increased interest in sex – and joy, there’s no risk of getting pregnant!)

Sex drive ageless
None of these changes make — or break — sexual interest and response. The most important factor in keeping sexually active for both sexes is to keep on doing it. The experts say that whatever level of sex drive you had in your younger years, you’ll still have in your 50s and beyond.

Best to hold onto a sense of humour too. Vancouver’s Nita Daniels-Levine, in her 60s and long married to husband Hart, says “I do know that there’s humour in everything. Often, when an older couple gets into the love-making act, the grunts you hear may not be expressions of love, but rather groans over body parts that don’t work the way they used to.”

Potential roadblocks

Whether you still want to have sex (and not everyone does), says Dr. Lamont, “can depend on how sex-positive your life has been and how much pleasure you’ve got out of sex.” Some people are actually delighted when they get older, says Dr. Lamont — now they have a reason to stop.

For other people there may be roadblocks: in men, erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation; in women, painful intercourse, called dyspareunia, and the inability to have orgasm. Do talk to your partner and your doctor about it if it’s not just a one-time thing.

Dr. Michael Gordon, chief of medicine at Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care in Toronto, says a change in medication may be an answer. “But most of the causes are not medication,” says Dr. Gordon – they’re of a psychological nature (lost job, depression), or they are related to physiology.

Sexual aids
And that’s where Viagra comes in. For a man without heart problems, Viagra may be suggested. “Once you’ve decided it’s the pill you want to use,” says Dr. Gorden: simply take a pill 15 minutes to half an hour before lovemaking – and voila, with a little stimulation, a very effective erection that can be recharged quite quickly too.

But be careful, says Dr. Gordon: “You may have been living for 20 years with a suppressed, unresponsive partner. Viagra can introduce a new world.” It can potentially mismatch a 70-year-old man to his 70-year-old wife — be sure to discuss plans together. Also, Viagra isn’t effective for men who have been impotent for years, smoke heavily or have advanced diabetes.

For women, lubricants or hormones can help relieve vaginal dryness and make intercourse more comfortable. Lubricants are available at drugstores and sex shops. Discuss the risks and benefits of hormone replacement therapy with your doctor. (Viagra is also being studied as an aid for women who have trouble having orgasms, says Dr. Gordon. Again, talk to your doctor.)

It just gets better
Still, at the end of the day, the most research conducted involves couples. And whatever turn-on works, the whole sexual experience can just get better and better as you get older, summarizes Lee Stones, a Thunder Bay gerontology consultant and co-author with husband, Michael Stones, of Sex May Be Wasted on the Young.

In fact, without the urgency of youth, men and women have never been matched better sexually. Also, research shows that when grown children leave home, happiness levels generally go up. And that’s because you can do things again as a couple, says Stones. Furthermore, it seems that for the first time, many older women and men in a relationship feel quite confident and comfortable with their bodies and their looks. And that, says Stones, has to be because they know they are truly appreciated and loved.