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The myths surrounding sexual intimacy in later years are finally being put in their proper place—behind us.
There is no subject in our society that is associated with more myths and misinformation that that of sexual intimacy and the elderly. This subject was previously considered a taboo and was relegated to derogatory humor.

However, as a result of the pioneering work of Masters and Johnson, the subject of sex and the elderly has "come out of the closet." It is now a frequent topic of great concern to the more than 21 million American men and women who are over 65 years of age.

How the baby boom is redefining what is "old"
With the aging of the baby boom, more Americans are in their 50s and 60s. In fact, demographics experts are noting that the large number of people born in the baby boom period after World War II are redefining what is considered "old." Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the young baby boomers who were then in their 20s and 30s viewed people in their 50s as "oldsters."

But now that these same baby boomers are entering the 50s and 60s themselves, they refuse to inherit that label. Instead, these baby boomers are pushing the label of "senior" farther into the 70s and 80s.

These aging baby boomers are not at all willing to concede themselves as seniors, and they are doing everything possible to stay young and active — including acting young and being active sexually.

Does a man develop erectile dysfunction as he gets older?
Some examples of the myths that are associated with the subject of sex and aging include:

  • Impotence is a natural consequence of aging.
  • Sexual activity can be dangerous for the elderly.
  • The sex drive or libido diminishes with advancing years for both men and women.

None of the above are true. These myths have been around for a long time and have made it difficult if not impossible for the elderly to enjoy sexual intimacy in their advancing years without feeling guilty or embarrassed.

Do older men and women still like sex?
Recent research shows that as we get older, our senses of taste, smell, and sight diminish, and our capacity for strenuous activities and exertion decline. Naturally, our sexual sensations and the ability to perform sexually will modestly decline.

Masters and Johnson discovered that "human sexual response may be slowed by the aging process, but it is certainly not terminated." Several recent reports indicate that the majority of women and nearly all men from 50-80 are still interested in sex. These studies also confirm that the majority of the elderly are capable of engaging in and enjoying sex.

How do men change physically with age, and how does that affect sex?
In most instances, older men require a longer time in order to achieve an erection. What took only a few seconds to a few minutes in a 19-year-old now requires 10-15 minutes in an older man. Many patients are often "cured" of impotence just by learning this important consequence of aging.

Similarly, women need to understand that the man may need more manual stimulation to achieve an erection. Just as women complain that they need more foreplay, as a man gets older, he too needs a fair amount of foreplay to achieve an erection. For a man over 50, it may not be enough to lend a seductive glance to get the guy rolling. A woman should be willing to do some fondling of the penis to help the man achieve an erection. Another normal change that occurs in the older man is the loss of orgasmic inevitability or the sensation of impending orgasm that occurs in younger men.

Some older men will notice that the volume of the ejaculate decreases slightly, and the force of the ejaculate also decreases with age. The older man also loses some of the focus on orgasm. The woman, accordingly, should not assume that he is not enjoying the intimate experience when the man does not ejaculate. On the contrary, older men can achieve a great deal of pleasure from sexual intimacy and yet not have an orgasm or ejaculate.

Finally, "the refractory period," or the time it takes to achieve another erection after ejaculation, increases with age. While a young man of 18 can often recover with an erection 15 minutes after sex, a man in his 50s may require 24 hours or more before he has another erection and he is interested in intercourse again.

How do women change as they get older?
There is a similar set of normal physiological changes that occur in the older woman that can have an impact on their capacity for intimacy.

First and foremost is the decline in the female hormone, estrogen, that occurs after menopause, which typically takes place when the women enters her 50s. The absence of estrogen can result in decreased vaginal lubrication. The loss of lubrication can often result in painful intercourse, but fortunately this condition can be easily treated with creams or medication like KY-jelly or Astroglide, both of which are available in drug stores.

Other normal changes in the older woman include a decrease in length, width, and elasticity of the vagina. Recent studies, however, indicate that the older woman has no physical limitation in her capacity to achieve and enjoy orgasm.

It is well-documented that older women experience fewer sexual problems than men as they age. Most healthy women can expect unimpaired sexual activity to the end of their lives if that was their pattern earlier.

Tips for aging & sex
Most men consider an active and satisfying sex life to be one of the most important parts of their lives. Yet many of them needlessly let their relationship waste away because they don't have their priorities straight.

Great sex is the result of an excellent relationship, not the cause of it. Being a good lover is not a matter of having extra-large physical equipment, knowing the "correct" technique, or being able to last all night. It's a matter of knowing, understanding and caring for your partner. To renew that bond, consider a few recommendations from experts such as my friend, Dr. Bernie Zilbergeld, from San Francisco:

Tell her that you find her attractive
Many guys assume that one compliment is good for years. Think about it, though. Can you imagine being told too often that you look good? Do you feel sexier when you've been complimented on your physique?

Take your time
In the rush of every day life, sex too often doesn't get time for warm-up. Try thinking of the entire day as foreplay. Be attentive and romantic at breakfast before you leave in the morning. Take her to lunch. Linger over conversation at dinner. Anticipation is at least half the fun.

Accept the fact that your drives aren't always in synch
People really do get headaches, and concern and caring—offer to fetch aspirin—is much more likely to get her feeling better (and interested) than being grumpy about it.

Try alternatives
Penetration isn't all there is to good sex, nor is it even necessary. See how a session of non-intercourse sex works for you.

Talk in bed
One of the most common complaints from women is that their men become mute once sex play starts. You're not at church or the library; this is fun. Tell her so.

Go ahead, ask
If she doesn't know what you like, it's unlikely that you'll receive it. Likewise, ask her what she prefers. Communication in bed can work wonders.

Be imaginative
Monotony is the death of good sex. This doesn't necessarily involve gymnastics. Spontaneity, which can as simple as choosing different places and times, is what's important.

Above all, focus on you and your partner's pleasure, not measure. It's not how big, how often, or how long. It's how good you both feel.


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