Many individuals wonder what will happen to their sex lives as they get older. Will they still be interested in having sex? Will sex continue to be as pleasurable as it was when they were younger? How does the body change with regards to sexual function as it gets older? While there are some changes that occur in an individual's sexual response cycle that come with aging, there are many ways to maintain and enjoy an active and healthy sex life at any age.
Common Changes caused by Aging in the Sexual Response Cycle
As people get older, there are changes in an individual’s sexual response cycle, but these changes do not necessarily impact the quality of one's sex life in a negative way.
Men and women have different changes to their sexual response cycles with age.
For men some changes from when they were younger may include: taking longer to get an erection or have trouble getting an erection at all, having less muscle tension in their penis, lengthening of the time it takes to orgasm, less contractions during orgasm, and/or a longer refractory period.
For women, some changes from when they were younger may include: less vasocongestion, inadequate lubrication, less expansion of the vagina, taking longer for arousal, less muscle contractions during orgasm, and/or less frequent orgasms.
These changes are natural and vary in the impact that they affect an individual’s sex life. It is possible to enjoy a pleasurable sex life with these bodily changes, and there are many things that one can do to keep an active and healthy sexual experience.
Changes in a Male’s Sexual Response Cycle during Aging
The Excitement Phase
- With age, erections (the engorgement of the penis with blood) may take longer than when at a younger age; a younger male may be able to experience erection in a matter of seconds, while some older men may need a prolonged period of more intense, effective physical stimulation to become erect. This is due to a decrease in testosterone; beginning in the mid-twenties, males tend to have a gradual decline in testosterone levels.
- Some males may find that they have trouble getting erections; if this is an ongoing problem, they may have erectile dysfunction. There are psychological and physiologicalcauses for erectile dysfunction, including neurological, vascular, post-surgical, drug-related, hormonal, lifestyle choices, anxiety, stress, and depression.1 There are many ways to treat the problem. If it is physiological treatment options include: Sildenafil (Viagra), External Vacuum Constriction Devices, surgically inserting internal devices, Intracavernosal Injections, Intraurethral Therapy, Yohimbine, and Testosterone therapy. These methods can be read about more in depth here. If erectile dysfunction is occurring because of psychological reasons, there are ways to help treat and prevent it, like keeping a healthy lifestyle by exercising, having a healthy diet, avoiding recreational drugs/smoking, communicating with your partner, creating a relaxed environment during sexual activity, and having safe sex on a regular basis.
The Plateau Phase
- As males age, may have “softer” erections due to less muscle tension (myotonia) than when they were younger.
- Complete erection may not occur until the end of the plateau phase instead of at the beginning, after continuous stimulation.
- The testes may not elevate towards the body as much as at a younger age.
- Older men may be able to stay in the plateau phase longer before climax than when they were younger, which may or may not enhance his and his partner's sexual experience.
The Orgasm/Climax Phase
- There may be fewer contractions during orgasm than at a younger age, which could lead to a less “intense” feeling orgasm.
- The pressure of ejaculation may decrease with age.
- Volume of semen in ejaculate may be decreased.2
The Resolution Phase
- Older men’s penises may return to their relaxed state faster than younger men.
- The testes may lower away from the body faster than when at a younger age.
- The refractory period (the time it takes to recover after an orgasm before being able to have another) lasts longer than it did when the man was young. In a male’s late teens/early 20s, a male’s refractory period can be as short as 3-5 minutes. As he ages, this refractory period lengthens; in his late 20s, the period maybe 15-30 minutes, while in his 40s this could take around three or four hours. By the time he is in his 50s, the refractory period may take ten to twelve hours. When he reaches his 60s, it could take as long as twenty-four hours.3
Changes in a Female's Sexual Response Cycle during Aging
The Excitement Phase
- As women age, there is less vasocongestion (genital swelling due to arousal) than when they were younger. Inadequate lubrication (less production of vaginal fluids) may occur, and vaginal lubrication may take longer. Women who lack adequate lubrication may invest in synthetic "lube," such as KY Jelly to reduce friction during sexual activity. There are many different types of lubricants available, and it is suggested to try multiple to see which is best for each individual. The width and length of the vagina does not expand as much as for young women, which can make it more difficult to accommodate an erect penis, finger, or other object.
The Plateau Phase
- For older women, it may take longer to become and stay aroused than when they were younger; older women may need more stimulation to become aroused than younger women.
The Orgasm Phase
- There may be fewer muscle contractions during orgasm, which may result in a less “intense” orgasm. This is because the pubococcygeal muscle (PC muscle) weakens with age. Kegel exercises can be done to strengthen this muscle. Kegel exercises consist of repeatedly tightening and releasing the muscle. The best way to begin these exercises is to locate the muscle by stopping urination midstream; if you can do this, you know which muscle to workout. Then, tighten and hold these muscles for 5 seconds, then release for 5 seconds, and repeat. You can work up to longer periods of time with practice. These exercises can build stronger pelvic floor muscles, which in turn can increase sexual response, pleasure, and the likelihood of reaching orgasm.4
- Orgasms may become less frequent as one ages; more stimulation might be necessary to achieve orgasm.
The Resolution Phase
- After orgasm, the body may take less time to return to an unaroused state than for younger women. This may occur more rapidly with age because older women experience less vasocongestion than younger women.
Ways to Keep a Healthy Sexual Response Cycle
One of the best ways to maintain a healthy sexual response cycle is to keep up an active sex life, which will exercise key body parts involved in sexual arousal and orgasm. In this case, the phrase "use it or lose it" holds truth; sexual activity does not have to decrease with age.
Overall health directly affects the sexual response cycle, so in order to have a healthy sex life, it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle via exercise and healthy diet. Being active will help increase energy throughout life, which can directly effect how often sexual encounters occur (a lack of energy be a reason many couples avoid having sex).
Many of these changes in the sexual response cycle do not have to be viewed as problems. For example, older women can have improved vasocongestion and lubrication with prolonged foreplay, which could increase the amount of pleasure she experiences. In addition, although pelvic floor muscles (which help bring blood to the genitals and create the contractions of orgasm) weaken as men and women age, they can easily be strengthened through Kegel Exercises. Since arousal may take longer in both men and women, foreplay may become more important and necessary. With age, it might be wise to focus on intimacy, instead of orgasm, as the ultimate goal of a sexual encounter. Not only does this change in focus take the pressure off of “performing,” but it may actually enhance the sexual experience for both partners involved.
The Myth of Sexual Peaks
A popular myth exists that women and men experience their sexual peaks (the time in which an individual's sexual desires and abilities are at their highest point) at different times in their lives, and then experience a rapid decline in sexual drive, pleasure, and frequency. According to this myth, men supposedly reach their sexual peak in their early twenties, while women do not reach theirs until their thirties.
It is possible that sexual desire, performance, and frequency may only decline slightly with age. A sharp decrease in sexuality does not have to occur, and both sexes can remain actively sexual during adulthood and beyond, depending on personal preferences.
However, it is important to understand that people may lose their sexual interest at any age depending on their sexual experiences. For instance, if someone has experienced negative or unloving sexual experiences, he or she could potentially have a decreased interest in sexual pleasure, performance, or frequency. It is important to understand your partner’s preferences involving sex in order to keep a healthy relationship, especially if they have had negative experiences.
People can have rewarding and exciting sex lives for decades no matter how old they are; sexual activity and pleasure does not necessarily need to decrease with age.
2) Bartlik, Barbara and Zucker Goldstein, "Men’s Sexual Health After Midlife." Practical Geriatrics. http://ps.psychiatryonline.org/data/Journals/PSS/3563/291.pdf
3) Hosein, Everold, “Waiting for Orgasm.” Trinidad Express Newspapers. http://www.trinidadexpress.com/featured-news/Waiting_for_orgasm_-124577124.html
Last Updated 13 October, 2014.
An androgen that plays an important role in the development of the male external genitalia.
A sex-education program that teaches abstinence and does not mention safer-sex practices, homosexuality, etc.
Rape by a person known to the victim. Also known as date rape.
A disease of the immune system characterized by increased susceptibility to opportunistic infections; caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
A fetishistic attraction to amputees or amputation stumps.
A drug used in the treatment of genital herpes.
The period of psychosexual and social maturation following the onset of puberty during which a young person develops from a child into an adult.
An adult that experiences sexual satisfaction from acting like a baby or toddler.
Another term to describe a store that sells pornography.
Another term for placenta, which is delivered in the final stage of childbirth.
Sexual behavior performed after sexual intercourse or orgasm, or at the end of a sexual encounter.
Absence of menstruation. See primary amenorrhea and secondary amenorrhea.
The sampling of amniotic fluid for purposes of prenatal diagnosis.
The posterior (back) portion of the urethral fold, which gives rise to the anus.
Penetration of the anus by the penis, or any sexual behavior involving the anus.
Any of a class of steroids—the most important being testosterone—that promote male sexual development and that have a variety of other functions in both sexes.
In men, the gradual decline of fertility with age; a hypothetical male equivalent of menopause.
Sexually attracted to men.
Sexual contact between the mouth or tongue of one person and the anus of another.
Slang term: “rimjob”
Difficulty experiencing or inability to experience orgasm. In women, also called female orgasmic disorder.
The opening from which feces are released.
A substance believed to improve sexual performance, enhance sexual pleasure, or stimulate desire or love.
A fetishistic interest in having an amputation.
The circular patch of darker skin that surrounds the nipple.
An assisted reproduction technique that involves the placement of semen in the vagina or uterus with the aid of a syringe or small tube.
Artificial insemination using sperm from a man who is not the woman’s partner.
Describes a person who never experiences sexual attraction.
In vitro fertilization and related technologies.
Someone that has contracted an infectious disease but is not experiencing symptoms.
The idea that relationship styles are influenced by the quality of the early parent–child bond.
Providing sexual stimulation to oneself, or being aroused sexually by oneself.
Self-strangulation for purposes of sexual arousal.
A form of male-to- female transexuality characterized by a man’s sexual arousal at the thought of being or becoming a woman.
A form of behavior therapy that attempts to eliminate unwanted desires or behaviors by associating them with some unpleasant experience, such as a noxious smell.
A condition in which the normal microorganisms of the vagina are replaced by other species, causing discomfort and a foul-smelling discharge.
Inflammation of the glans of the penis.
Any contraceptive technique in which a physical barrier, such as a condom or diaphragm, prevents sperm from reaching the ovum.
A facility, usually in the form of a private club, used for casual sex between men.
A version of post-traumatic stress disorder affecting women who are victims of intimate partner violence.
An all-inclusive term for forms of sexual expression that involve inflicting and receiving physical pain, restraint, or humiliation. Often understood as a compressed acronym for bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism.
In gay slang, a burly gay man with plenty of body hair; more generally, a member of a gay male subculture that rejects many of the prevailing standards of gay male attractiveness and behavior.
Treatment of paraphilias or other disorders based on conditioning or other theories of behavioral psychology. Also called behavior modification.
Therapy focused on improving styles of communication between partners in relationships.
Noncancerous enlargement of the prostate gland.
Obsolete term for sexual contact between a person and an animal.
Colloquial term for bisexual.
In law, the crime of marrying someone while already married to another spouse.
Prejudice against bisexuals.
The canal formed by the uterus, cervix, and vagina, through which the fetus passes during the birth process.
A facility specializing in childbirth care.
Sexual attraction to persons of both sexes.
An American slang term describing the temporary swelling of the testicles due to fluid congestion accompanied by testicular pain; occurs when a male is sexually aroused for an extended amount of time without climax
An American slang term describing the temporary swelling of the vulva due to fluid congestion accompanied by discomfort; occurs when a female is sexually aroused for an extended amount of time without climax.
The use of physical restraint for purposes of sexual arousal. Rope, cuffs, bondage tape, and other restraints are often used for this purpose.
A method of childbirth instruction that stresses the partner’s role as birth coach and that teaches a natural childbirth method.
Irregular uterine contractions that occur during the third trimester of pregnancy. Also called false labor.
The first stage of breast development at puberty.
In Cameroon, a traumatic procedure to delay breast development in girls.
In women, the two soft, protruding organs on the upper front of the torso; contains the mammary gland, which can secrete milk after pregnancy.
Slang terms: “boobs,” “tits,” “rack”
A house of prostitution.
Two small glands near the root of the penis that may secrete “pre-cum” at the urethral opening during sexual arousal before ejaculation. Also known as Cowper’s glands.
Masculine-acting, often used to describe certain lesbians.
A fertility awareness method of contraception that takes account of variability in the length of a woman’s menstrual cycles.
An escort-service prostitute, especially one who is relatively upscale in terms of clientele and price.
A fungal infection of the vagina. Also called thrush or a yeast infection.
Removal of the gonads. (In males, may include removal of the penis.) Also known as gonadectomy.
Sexual encounters that do not take place within a lasting sexual relationship.
Living under a vow not to marry or (by implication) to engage in sexual relations.
A small rubber or plastic cap that adheres by suction to the cervix, used as a contraceptive.
The lowermost, narrow portion of the uterus that connects with the vagina.
A surgical procedure in which a baby is delivered through an incision in the mother’s abdominal wall and uterus.
A primary sore on the skin or a mucous membrane in a person infected with syphilis. (Pronounced SHANK-er.)
An adult who has had sexual contact with a prepubescent child.
A sexually transmitted disease caused by infection with the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis.
The sampling of tissue from the placenta for purposes of prenatal diagnosis.
An alternative, more-inclusive term for chronic prostatitis. See prostatitis.
Microscopic, hairlike extensions of cells, often capable of coordinated beating motions.
A community support program for released sex offenders.
The surgical removal of the foreskin.
Detention of a person having a mental disorder that creates a threat to himself or others.
A form of behavioral learning in which a novel stimulus is tied to a preexisting reflex.
The transition to infertility at the end of a woman’s reproductive life, lasting for several years and culminating in menopause.
The assessment or treatment of mental or behavioral problems, as practiced by a psychologist.
A loose fold of skin that covers the clitoris.
Removal of the entire external portion of the clitoris (glans, shaft, and hood).
The erectile organ in females, whose external portion is located at the junction of the labia minora, just in front of the vestibule; it is the most sensitive erogenous zone and often the primary anatomical source of sexual pleasure in women.
The common exit of the gastrointestinal and urogenital systems; in humans it is present only in embryonic life.
Related to the aspects of the mind that process knowledge or information.
The study of the information-processing systems of the mind.
Therapy based on changing a person’s beliefs and thought processes.
A live-in sexual relationship between two persons who are not married to each other.
The apparent negative outcomes of cohabitation before marriage, such as less satisfying marriages and divorce.
A variation of the man-above position for coitus that increases clitoral stimulation.
Penetration of the vagina by the penis.
The milk produced during the first few days after birth; it is relatively low in fat but rich in immunoglobulins.
The examination of the cervix with the aid of an operating microscope.
Reveal a previously concealed identity, such as being gay.
The cognitive component of love: the decision to maintain a relationship.
A form of marriage in which the husband and wife are expected to be emotionally intimate and to engage in social activities together.
Sexual behavior perceived subjectively as involuntary and diagnosed as a symptom of a compulsive disorder. Also called obsessive–compulsive sexual disorder.
The modification of behavior by learning through association and/or reinforcement.
A congenital defect of hormonal metabolism in the adrenal gland, causing the gland to secrete excessive levels of androgens.
An oral contraceptive regimen in which all pills (except any dummy pills) contain the same drug dosage.
A device inserted in the body that slowly releases a hormonal contraceptive.
In childbirth, a periodic tightening of the uterine muscles, felt as a cramp.
A group of subjects included in a study for comparison purposes.
The revival of sexual arousal caused by the presence of a novel partner.
The rim of the glans of the penis.
Either of two elongated erectile structures within the clitoris or penis that also extend backward into the pelvic floor.
A secretory structure in the ovary derived from an ovarian follicle after ovulation.
A single midline erectile structure. In both sexes it fills the glans; in males it extends backward along the underside of the penis, surrounding the urethra.
A paraphilia or certain set of paraphilias seen as a disorder of normal courtship behavior.
Pregnancy-like symptoms in the male partner of a pregnant women. Also called sympathetic pregnancy.
A form of marriage that requires a stronger vow of commitment than a regular marriage and that makes divorce harder to obtain.
A sheetlike muscle that wraps around the spermatic cord and the testicle.
Wearing the clothing of the other sex, for any of a variety of reasons. One who cross-dresses is sometimes referred to as being “in drag.”
The appearance of the fetal scalp at the vaginal opening.
Internal extensions of the corpora cavernosa of the clitoris or penis.
A colloquial term for infatuation.
Failure of one or both testicles to descend into the scrotum by 3 months of postnatal age.
The study of cultural variations across the human race.
The study of the interactions between culture and mental processes or behaviors.
Sexual contact between the tongue or mouth of one person and the vulva of another.
Slang terms: “eating-out,” “third base,” “oral,” “head”
Stalking via the Internet.
The cycle in which some abused children grow up to repeat similar forms of abuse on others. Also called victim–perpetrator cycle.
Rape between dating or socially acquainted couples; it is particularly common of college campuses. Also called acquaintance rape.
A nonmarital sexual relationship between two persons who do not live together but who see each other on a more-or-less regular basis.
Removal of laws that criminalize activities such as prostitution.
Kissing, with entry of the tongue into the partner’s mouth.
Slang term: “French kissing,” “making out”
Difficulty achieving or inability to achieve orgasm and/or ejaculation. Also called male orgasmic disorder.
Labor that occurs more than 3 weeks after a woman’s due date.
Puberty that begins later than normal.
Persistent false belief that one’s partner is involved with another person.
Stalking motivated by the delusional belief that the victim is in love with, or could be persuaded to fall in love with, the stalker.
An injectable form of medroxyprogesterone acetate, used as a contraceptive in women or to decrease the sex drive in male sex offenders.
A form of Depo-Provera designed for subcutaneous (under the skin) injection.
Synthetic steroids designed to be undetectable in drug testing.
An Indian temple prostitute.
An Indian temple prostitute.
A barrier placed over the cervix as a contraceptive.
In childbirth, the expansion of the cervical canal.
Also called dilatation.
A procedure involving the opening of the cervix and the scraping out of the contents of the uterus with a curette (spoonlike instrument). D&E may be done as an abortion procedure or for other purposes.
A sex toy, often shaped like a penis, used to penetrate the vagina or anus.
Using graphic word imagery and/or explicit language to increase pleasure during sexual activity. It is a common part of foreplay, and can include vivid erotic descriptions or sexual commands.
The situation in which one partner in a relationship has much more interest in sex than the other.
Medical conditions producing abnormal sexual differentiation or intersexuality.
The distancing of oneself from the emotions evoked by some traumatic experience or memory.
The use of humiliation or subservience for purposes of sexual arousal.
A woman who acts the role of the dominating partner in a BDSM setting.
To rinse the vagina out with a fluid.
A collection of birth defects caused by the presence of an extra copy of chromosome 21.
The wearing of exaggeratedly feminine clothing by a man, often for entertainment purposes.
The pain that sometimes accompanies menstruation.
See primary dysmenorrhea and secondary dysmenorrhea.
Pain during coitus.
A complication of pregnancy in which an embryo implants somewhere other than the uterus, such as one of the fallopian tubes.
Also known as tubal pregnancy.
Thinning of the cervix in preparation for childbirth.
Release of semen from the penis, usually as a result of orgasm.
Slang terms: “cumming,” “busting,” “finishing”
Either of the two bilateral ducts formed by the junction of the vas deferens and the duct of the seminal vesicle. The ejaculatory ducts empty into the urethra within the prostate.
An abortion performed in circumstances when the woman’s health is not at risk.
A form of emergency contraception that is effective for 5 days after sex.
Use of high-dose contraceptives to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex.
The loading of the components of semen into the posterior (back) urethra immediately before ejaculation.
Fear that one’s partner is becoming emotionally committed to another person.
The ability to share or understand other people’s feelings.
Cancer of the endometrium of the uterus.
The growth of endometrial tissue at abnormal locations such as the oviducts.
The internal lining of the uterus.
The sinking of a fetus’s head into a lower position in the pelvis in preparation for birth.
Also called lightening.
A structure, attached to each testicle, where sperm mature and are stored before entering the vas deferens.
Inflammation of the epididymis.
Anesthesia administered just outside the membrane that surrounds the spinal cord.
A cut extending the opening of the vagina backward into the perineum, performed by an obstetrician to facilitate childbirth or reduce the risk of a perineal tear.
A persistent inability to achieve or maintain an erection sufficient to accomplish a desired sexual behavior such as coitus to orgasm.
Physiological phenomenon in which the penis becomes firmer, larger, and filled with blood, typically in response to sexual excitement.
Slang terms: “boner,” “pitching a tent,” getting hard”
Sexually themed works, such as books or sculpture, deemed to have literary or artistic merit.
The delusional belief that a sexually desired but unattainable person is actually in love with oneself.
Euphemism for a prostitute who advertises by print, word of mouth, or the Internet.
A service that provides prostitutes, generally contacted by telephone.
A method of tubal sterilization that uses metal coils to block the oviducts.
The principal estrogen, secreted by ovarian follicles.
Any of a class of steroids—the most important being estradiol—that promote the development of female secondary sexual characteristics at puberty and that have many other functions in both sexes.
The study of a cultural group, often by means of extended individual fieldwork.
A man who has been castrated.
The study of the influence of evolution on mental processes or behavior.
The beginning phase of the sexual response cycle.
A paraphilia involving exposure of the genitalia to strangers, sometimes with masturbation.
Also called “flashing.”
A form of psychotherapy for victims of rape or abuse in which they are encouraged to recall the traumatic event in a safe environment.
A regimen of contraceptive pills that allows for fewer or no menstrual periods.
The sexual structures on the outside of the body. The penis, urethra, and scrotum comprise the male external genitalia. Female external genitalia consist of the labia minora, labia majora, and clitoris.
A sexual relationship in which at least one of the partners is already married or partnered with someone else.
A person who has had sexual contact with children outside his immediate family.
An imagined experience, sexual or otherwise.
Sexual contact between the mouth of one person and the penis of another.
Slang terms: “head,” “sucked-off,” “oral”
Any of several forms of ritual cutting or removal of parts of the female genitalia.
A plastic pouch inserted into the vagina as a contraceptive and/or to prevent disease transmission.
Insufficient physiological arousal in women, resulting in unpleasurable or painful sex.
A type of cervical cap that has a raised brim.
The movement to secure equality for women; the study of social and psychological issues from women’s perspectives.
Prejudice against femininity in males.
Feminine-acting, often used to describe certain lesbians or bisexual women.
Contraceptive techniques that rely on avoiding coitus during the woman’s fertile window. Also called rhythm methods or periodic abstinence methods.
A collection of physical and behavioral symptoms in a child who was exposed to high levels of alcohol as a fetus.
Sexual arousal by inanimate objects, materials, or parts of the body.
A noncancerous tumor arising from muscle cells of the uterus.
The fringe at the end of the oviduct, composed of finger-like extensions.
State in which the penis is limp or soft.
A fluid-filled sac that contains an egg (ovum), with its supporting cells, within the ovary.
One of the two major gonadotropins secreted by the pituitary gland; it promotes maturation of ova (or sperm in males).
An alternative term for preovulatory phase.
Any kind of sexual touching of the partner’s body.