Sex Ed 3.0: Staying sexually healthy long-term

More tips to help you improve intimacy as you age
Elderly couple sharing flowers and a peck on the cheek

Despite negative stereotypes that persist when talking about sexuality, sex and intimacy are still important to the majority of adults, both men and women. In fact, research indicates that a thriving sex life is linked with overall well-being, improved quality of life in older men and women, and, by report, a reduced incidence of depressive symptoms. Additionally, the National Poll on Healthy Aging (2017) showed 40% of older adults were still having sex and 66% were married or partnered.

While the Golden Years often provide a level of personal satisfaction and freedom, getting older does brings its own list of health concerns. That, combined with stress from managing life during the COVID-19 pandemic, can bring challenges to being sexually healthy and intimate.

So while we can’t control the pandemic, adults can take their sexual well-being and desires into their own hands – and bedrooms. Here are some tips for staying sexually healthy while building intimacy with your partner.

Talk about it

Getting real with your partner is one of the best ways to build intimacy, and can potentially set the stage for connected and fulfilling sex. However, some older adults may worry that their partners will no longer find them attractive. Additionally, different factors such as illnesses, disabilities, and side effects from certain medicines and surgeries can lead to age-related sexual problems. These can affect your ability to enjoy sex and cause stress and worry as well. One way to cope with this stress is to talk openly with your partner. Being honest about your concerns can help relieve the internal pressure and foster a deeper trust between the two of you. If you notice a shift in your partner’s attitude about sex, talk about it– without blaming your partner or yourself.

At times, it helps to bring in a professional. Help is available for many of the things that can cause sexual problems in older adults. A doctor might be able to shed light on any medical conditions that could be impacting your sexual health. A therapist can address any emotional blocks to a healthy sex life. Some therapists have special training in helping with sexual problems, many of whom are available via virtual sessions, such as the ones Blue Shield offers through Teladoc.

Let’s get physical

Sometimes, poor physical health can lower sexual satisfaction. Regular exercise is linked with reducing risk of sexual dysfunction. But even if we do all the right things, aging can still bring on certain health conditions. Arthritis and chronic pain can make the physical exertion of sex more difficult. The shifting hormones of menopause can lead to lower vaginal lubrication in women. Heart disease is linked with erectile dysfunction in men.

Having an open dialogue with your partner and your doctor can help you and partner understand and adapt to physical challenges and manage health issues that are preventing you from enjoying sex. One thing to remember is that exposure to sexually transmitted diseases, like chlamydia and gonorrhea, is not just for young adults. Older adults can be at risk, so it is important to use protection when sexually active with multiple or new partners. Talk to your doctor if and when you have concerns.

Switch things up

You might find that being open and expanding your sexual explorations beyond traditional intercourse might lead to new (and exciting) ways of building intimacy. So while a particular position may no longer be optimal for you due to disability, you might find an alternative that could provide a new level of fulfillment. Experimenting with various lubricants can also bring another aspect of novelty play to your partnership, while reducing the pain of vaginal dryness.

Intimacy also comes in different forms. A simple sweet extended kiss, holding hands, or cuddling can help rekindle your love and takes the pressure off of closeness having to lead somewhere. As with anything new, talk to your doctor first to make sure it’s safe for you and your partner.

While sex might seem difficult to talk about – or simply something you haven’t given much thought to in some time – just know that the benefits of a thriving sex life will not only help your mental and emotional health; it will also give your relationship a satisfying boost for years to come.

Want more tips for a thriving sex life? Check out our other Sex Ed article: How older adults can benefit from Sex Ed 2.0.