Sex - it's not just for the young

Older people and sex…

Stereotypes can be very powerful. One of the enduring stereotypes of the modern age is that older people are not interested in sex and don’t engage in sexual relations. Sex between consenting adults is fine but not if they are both above a certain age. Sex is for young healthy and attractive people. The notion of grandparents doing it is revolting. Or so the stereotype goes.

The great danger with stereotypes is that people begin to accept them as being true. We live in a society that idealises the thin athletic body of youth. Television and various forms of advertising all promote the concept of the body beautiful. Tall thin and leggy is in but the fuller figure is definitely out. It is not just the vulnerable adolescent that can feel alienated in the modern world. We know from our experience with young people that self-esteem and body image are closely related and can be a source of deep unhappiness if the young person perceives that they are very different from their peers. But self-esteem and body image can also be very important for the older person as age related change imposes its own challenges.

Physical changes

Older people look in the mirror too. They may fear being less attractive to their partners as their hair recedes, the wrinkles increase and the varicose veins start to get bigger. The person is also challenged by the physical changes they observe in their partners. Some couples learn to accept these physical changes and focus on wider aspects of their relationship and can continue to enjoy physical intimacy to an advanced age. Others are less successful in making this transition with great personal loss to themselves.

The menopause is an important time of change for most couples and it can be a make or break time. It is a time of transition that is not just simply a question of hormones. A successful transition through the menopause can ensure the continuation of a satisfactory sexual relationship for many years to come. For some couples the menopause can be a time of great sexual liberation as they are at last free of the worry of pregnancy. It can also be the first time in years that the couple have had the house to themselves without the fear of intrusion during lovemaking.

Sex drive

Some women may even experience an increase in sex drive because the oestrogen levels begin to fall thereby allowing androgens to play a more powerful role in physical arousal and sexual response. Readers may be surprised by that previous comment since androgens are known to be male hormones however, both men and women have certain amounts of both male and female sex hormones in their bodies. It is the altered ratio of androgen to oestrogen in the menopausal female that causes the sexual effect.

However, a decrease in sexual desire with advancing age is perhaps more common in both men and women. Sexual response may also take longer. Men may begin to experience erectile failure and this may cause considerable difficulties in self-esteem especially if it is a new experience for the man. One of the most positive spin offs from the recent availability of treatments for erectile failure is that men are at last beginning to feel that they can now talk about this difficulty to the doctor because something can be done about it.

I had an amusing experience when viagra first became available in Ireland. A woman came to see me one day in order to get a supply of the drug for her husband because the drug had not yet been launched in the country where she now lived. The drug was on her shopping list of things to bring home with her along with the Aran jumpers, the brown bread and the smoked salmon.

Some medications can affect sexual response.


I digress! Women may experience soreness during intercourse because of thinning and drying of the vaginal tissues. This happens as a result of the decrease in oestrogen. These physical changes in the vagina may cause discomfort for both partners and they may resort to the use of lubricants to compensate for lack of vaginal moisture. If a couple do resort to using lubricants it is best to use a water based item such as KY jelly rather than petroleum jelly, which quickly loses its lubricating effect during intercourse. Prescription vaginal creams containing oestrogen may be an even better option for the problem of vaginal dryness and thinning.

There may also be issues concerning role change. This can be a particular problem for women as they struggle with several competing roles all at once. The nest is now empty but they may have to contend again with child minding as they care for their grandchildren. Some women may also have to continue working outside the home while still performing the traditional role of housewife. For some women the juggling of these various roles may allow the role of sexual partner to recede into the background.

Having negotiated their way through the menopause the couple may have to contend with physical impairment. Arthritis can make sexual intercourse more difficult but not impossible. People with cardiac or pulmonary disease may lack the actual stamina to engage in intercourse. However, changes in sexual positions may allow mutually satisfactory sexual relations to take place.


Some medications can affect sexual response. For example medication for high blood pressure can cause erectile difficulty in the male so if that happens discuss it with your GP. You don’t have to accept such side effects as part of life’s ongoing burden. Medication can be changed. Erectile failure is not an essential element in controlling people’s blood pressure!

It is important for older people to continue to eat sensibly and take regular exercise. A sedentary lifestyle accompanied by obesity, excessive alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking can all result in a diminished or absent sexual response. If you pay prudent attention to your health there is no reason why you cannot enjoy good sex while having a medical card for the over seventies and a free bus pass.

The desire for sex is a powerful, primitive and healthy drive within all of us. Older people should ignore the stereotypes of today and seek help if they are experiencing sexual difficulty. Sex is not just for the young. True sophisticates might even say that it is wasted on them.

Dr Leonard Condren is the medical editor of


Anonymous - 12/12/2001 11:02

This is more of a question than a comment. Although I have a good few years to go before menopause (I hope!) I am dreading the 'thinning and drying of the vaginal tissues' mentioned in this article. Lubricant creams sound like a real turn-off to me. Are there other alternatives? Perhaps something that could be taken orally?

michael(sergent) - 19/12/2001 19:02

People live longer by having sex it calms the nerves and gives a meaning.

Anonymous - 19/12/2001 20:06

Heartening. Thanks.

Anonymous - 01/04/2002 21:13

Is viagra safe for all men ? or would one have to be assessed by a gp before being put on it. Are there any known side affects of long term use ?

John(johnslevin) - 04/04/2002 15:34

People in this age bracket have an advantage over their younger rivals as it's no longer a case of wham! bang! thank you mam!. Rather it is a time when one can prove the theory that 'to give is better than to receive'and the true depth of a relationship can be explored without the need to compete with the pack, as is the case in youth

Anonymous - 14/04/2002 14:10

I am a 48 year old female and my libido has been reducing over the past years. This affects me negatively it also affects my attitude to relationships. It was wonderful throughout my 30s. Apparently my hormone levels are okay - I have the blood test regularly. I'm really fed up about it as it's becoming more and more difficult to reach an orgasm. I'd love some good advice and am even tempted to take the female version of Viagra which I've seen advertised on the net. Are there any other women who have this difficulty? Also I have never had an orgasm through penetration - I always need clitoral stimulation. This makes me feel inadequate and my last partner (and current partner) so often said he wished we could reach an orgasm together as they experienced this in their previous relationships. All suggestions welcome. Thank you.

lorraine(lorraine1959) - 14/07/2002 15:10

hi anonymous 48 year old i am having promlems with my sex libido if viagra or anything else works for you help me, lorraine

Anonymous - 02/01/2003 22:51

Some mood disorder medication can affect one's sex drive particularly some antielatants and also drugs used for schizophrenia. I was on one antielatant and my periods disappeared altogether while I was on it. I wasn't too pleased about this. I didn't think it was natural. My doctor gave me a herb at the time, which you can get on prescription in pharmacies. It is called Gingko Biloba. It works very well. A natural alternative to Viagra which I have never taken. Stimulating the clitoris is a great way of bringing a woman to orgasm. We discovered this after 20 years of marriage (Late developers !) It helped us, particularly me, an awful lot.

Anonymous - 23/07/2003 05:27

Ive turnes 50, havent had sex for years, live alone and have a job car own home and a celebate...?spelling?? I miss it NO, and I'm very contented thanks.

Anonymous - 23/07/2003 23:09

I'm a fifty something year old male with a female partner of about the same age. Due to an accident I had some years ago,I had been unable to have sex with my partner. During this time my partner was well into the change in her life. I alwasy had a fairly high sex drive, and before this time of my partners life her sex drive was going down at the time. We tried a couple of times during this period to be intimate and the results were'nt very good.I love her very much but she won't explain [or mention ]how the menapause is effecting her.[We refer to the menapause HRT medication as her granny tablets].When we do have sex I find it very hard to come to a climax,as I get very sore below the head of my penis .I think its because my partner becomes dry inside her vagina. I feel bad because I think she's not enjoying her sex with me.I mentioned the situation to my GP hoping to get some information so as I could understand her situation. He was very negative over the situation, Its not a thing you'll go to the pub and have a chat with the barman over. Is there a person out there who might be able to explain the situation and the simptoms on this subject! please I'd like to keep our sex life going,I certainly don't think we're to old to have sex. Thanks !

Anonymous - 08/06/2004 23:58

I am 53years old and over weight and the only sex I have at the moment is in my head. Been overweight, I feel unattractive and I feel unhappy about exposing my wabbly bits but as I write this comment, I also realise my sex life is boring, I know what moves my hubby is going to make and after 30 years the fun and sexiness is gone thats probably when ever we do have sex I laugh so much. help need immediately!! or the "guys in the white coats" will be coming for me.

Anonymous - 13/12/2004 08:09

I'm a 44 year old woman and I enjoy sex very much. I'm overweight, but I feel great about it. I have no shame of my body and I love to show it.

Mike(ZUE14136) - 27/01/2005 14:36

44 year old woman, Stand up and take a bow. It is great to read your post. I am a 54 yar old man who is sick of all the secrecy and taboo about sex and sexuality in Ireland. What is the big deal about a normal human urge. Baffled!

Mike(ZUE14136) - 31/01/2005 12:07

53yrs old woman, the one area that I see as contributing to the ending of the sensual component of many a great relationship is a fear of actually communicating to our other half what we need them to do to and for us so we are fulfilled sexually. That is such a broad canvas it is exciting in it's endless and often life enhancing possibilities. If I was to put it this way, some of us are tactile,verbal,oral sexually, look at the endless ways we can enjoy these.

Anonymous - 27/05/2005 12:31

I read about a UK survey recently that said that 83% of women expect to still enjoy sex well into their seventies. It mentioned a product called Replens which is a vaginal moisturiser (not a lubricant) and it helps to restore vaginal muscles. I got it at my local pharmacy, tried and now I can enjoy sex again for the first time in years. My husband is delighted as sex was always an important part of our life when we were younger, but it had been painful for me for a long time.

Anonymous - 12/07/2005 10:15

can this product called replens be bought in ireland

mike - 14/05/2007 12:41

I just returned to this to see if the discussion had a healthy development and yes it was dead. Well here is a nugget for someone to chew on: Regular Sex keeps us agile, fresh skined and slows down the aging process in our body.

Anon - 16/05/2007 00:13

Mike, There was an old lady on tv the other night who was celebrating her 106th birthday. When asked what her secret was she said it was because she never got married. Sex does not make anyone live longer. That is a myth put about by men and if it was the case, then there would be no such thing as an old nun!!!

CAET - 08/01/2013 10:14

Re the old lady of 106 who said she had never got married, and the conclusion that sex does not make anyone live longer ... who says this great lady never had sex, she might even have been gay.  Which in those days would have been unacceptable in the extreme, especially for women. I am sure that is the explanation of why a lot of elderly men and women in Ireland never married ...

These days unprotected sex might definitely cut short your life span.

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