Sexual Desire in Old Age

There are many misunderstandings about sexual desire in old age. Let's see what scientists say and some of the myths around it.
Sexual Desire in Old Age

Last update: 26 January, 2023

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines sexual health as “a state of physical, emotional, mental, and social well-being in relation to sexuality; and not simply the absence of disease, dysfunction, or infirmity’. It’s well known by all that aging is related to a series of changes in sexual health, although in general, these are very misunderstood. This is why we want to review what scientists say about sexual desire in old age.

Certainly, there’s a degree of skepticism or taboo in the population when talking about sexual desire in old age, or directly in regard to sexual experiences. In conclusion, we want to say that, strictly speaking, human beings are never too old to enjoy a happy and healthy sexual life. Of course, they go through a series of context-driven changes.

Is there sexual desire in old age?

There is a general consensus among the young population to assume that older people lose their sexual desires or that they are physically incapable of performing sexual intercourse. This can lead many older adults to develop feelings of guilt or repression around the expression of their sexual desire. However, sexual desire does exist in old age, although it has slightly different motivations.

Of course, pleasure is involved during sexual experiences during this stage of life, but so are ideas of loyalty, admiration, affection, passion, romance, commitment, and others.

In the same way, the affirmation of self-esteem, personal assessment of physical abilities, and subjective happiness play their part. All of this comes into play when it comes to sexual desire in old age.

According to estimates, more than 80% of adults between the ages of 50 and 90 are sexually active. It’s true that the frequency of sexual activity decreases as people age, but this doesn’t imply that sexual desire in old age disappears completely. Of course, it’s conditioned by a series of typical factors of this stage of life.

Sexual desire in old age and sexual dysfunction

Sexual desire in old age is healthy
Many cases of sexual health problems in old age can be associated with cases of sexual dysfunction. These are amenable to treatment.

As a person ages, the prevalence of some diseases increases. Specialists warn that more than 50% of older adults interrupt their sexual activities due to the deterioration of their health.

Conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and arthritis are counted as some of the most disabling when it comes to sexuality in old age.

Although it’s true that it decreases a little, sexual desire in old age remains at sufficient levels to ensure stable sexual health. Despite this, to the above health conditions, we must also add those related to sexual dysfunction. We’ll review the most important for each sex according to researchers.

Sexual health and aging in men

Erectile dysfunction is the main manifestation of sexual dysfunction in older men. Some estimates suggest that up to 70% of men over the age of 70 deal with some degree of erectile dysfunction.

This percentage drops to 45% in the 60-year-old category and 15% among 40-year-olds. Men who are obese, have diabetes, have high blood pressure, have heart disease, and take certain medications (thiazide diuretics, antidepressants, beta-blockers, and others) are at increased risk.

At the same time, physical inactivity, habits such as smoking or consuming alcohol, and diet can enhance the manifestation of erectile dysfunction. The second most common complication is hypogonadism.

This is the lowering of testosterone levels. Although the decline isn’t as abrupt as in women, it can get in the way of sexual drive, sexual thoughts, and enjoyment. Both conditions affect sexual desire in old age.

Sexual health and aging in women

Having sexual desire in old age is normal.
Women may be especially prone to uncomfortable or painful sexual intercourse as they reach old age.

Menopause is the main obstacle that women must overcome to achieve sexual health. Among many other things, alterations in hormonal production result in vaginal dryness, decreased lubrication with sexual activity, and pain during sexual intercourse (dyspareunia), as well as neurological and psychosexual changes.

Among the latter, we highlight the deterioration of sexual performance, decreased libido, irritability, and anorgasmia. On the other hand, vulvovaginal atrophy (VVA) is the second complication related to sexual health and aging in women.

According to estimates, it develops in 4% of women with early menopause and 47% of women with late menopause.

As a consequence, the vaginal epithelium thins. This results in a reduction in exfoliated cells in the vagina, which in turn raises the pH and disrupts the natural flora.

Vaginal dryness, stress incontinence, irritation, frequent urinary infections, postcoital bleeding, and pain are some of the complications involved. A pathway that gets in the way of sexual desire in old age.

This brief panorama is useful for us to understand that older adults experience sexual desires and impulses, although these may be conditioned by social, emotional, and physiological factors.

Contrary to popular belief, a solution can be found for many of these problems. If you’re experiencing problems in your sexual health (referring to the definition provided at the beginning of this article) don’t hesitate to seek professional help.

  • Fisher JS, Rezk A, Nwefo E, Masterson J, Ramasamy R. Sexual Health in the Elderly Population. Curr Sex Health Rep. 2020 Dec;12(4):381-388.
  • Gott CM. Sexual activity and risk-taking in later life. Health Soc Care Community. 2001 Mar;9(2):72-8.
  • Kalra G, Subramanyam A, Pinto C. Sexuality: desire, activity and intimacy in the elderly. Indian J Psychiatry. 2011 Oct;53(4):300-6.
  • Mac Bride MB, Rhodes DJ, Shuster LT. Vulvovaginal atrophy. Mayo Clin Proc. 2010 Jan;85(1):87-94.
  • Selvin E, Burnett AL, Platz EA. Prevalence and risk factors for erectile dysfunction in the US. Am J Med. 2007 Feb;120(2):151-7.

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