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Sex and the Older Couple

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Young people have a hard time accepting the fact that their fathers and mothers continue to have sex even after the age of 65. The fact is that they do have sex. Just as in the case of younger people, sexuality is affected by physical and psychological issues. For the older person there are issues that are different from when they were young. Age brings with it many physical and psychological changes. What are some of the issues affecting the ability of senior citizens to enjoy sexuality?

For one thing, as people age the likelihood of losing their partner vastly increases. In the absence of their husband or wife with whom they felt very comfortable it is difficult to find a new partner with whom the same level of comfort and trust can be achieved. In fact, in the absence of trying to find a new partner, many widows and widowers are left feeling lonely and depressed. Neither of these emotions has a positive impact of sexuality for the older person.

Even for older couples who remain together there are issues that can make sex very difficult. For example, at any point in life, performance anxiety can be a source of stress that causes sexual relations to stop. For the older couple, this is particularly so. Because the strength of the libido or sexual urge decreases with age, older people can feel awful about themselves for what feels like a loss of sexual desire. Add to this the fact that age and physical changes directly affect performance it many people begin avoiding having sex with their partner. For older men and women it takes longer to orgasm and, in fact, orgasm might not occur on all occasions. Yet, if people continue to have high expectations of themselves they will feel disappointed because so much has changed. Rather than adjusting to these changes some people give up. The result is that the relationship is no longer nurtured.

For some older couples, giving up sex because of these and other problems, leads to distance and alienation. This distance can feel like a real loss for many people, leading to a sense of isolation in the relationship.

Another source of distress is the fact that time takes a toll on everyone’s physical appearance. Loose and sagging skin, loss of muscle density, hair loss and changes in the waistline, discourages many who look upon themselves as undesirable regardless of what their husband or wife thinks. A preoccupation with appearance causes some to hide under the covers and prevent anyone from seeing their body.

These and other problems, such as boredom, conflict, stress and fatigue do not have to mean the end of sexuality. It just means that changes need to be made that will increase the ability to be emotionally and physically intimate.

For example, a mature couple needs to spend more time in foreplay. Foreplay often becomes more important than actual orgasm which may or may not happen. It’s the physical closeness, mutual stroking and touching that become the center of closeness. That is not to say that orgasm will not occur. It may not occur every time. It’s this kind of closeness that helps all human beings feel good about themselves.

Appropriate types of exercise and proper nutrition continue to have an important impact on the mental and physical well-being of senior citizens. This in turn has a positive impact on feeling sexual.

There is no reason why aging should end sexual functioning. While many things may be different for the older person, they can continue to perform and enjoy sex.

If there is a sexual problem that is organic in nature then it’s important to see a physician, probably a urologist. For all other issues people can see a therapist to help them work on problems. Very often it is couples psychotherapy that works best. However, there are many other things that are available to couples who are having sexual and emotional difficulties. Yoga, Tai Chi, an exercise program approved by a physician and good nutrition.

It is not just sex that keeps a couple together. Older couples, just the same at any age, need to do things together, from going on long walks to joining in commonly enjoyed activities, whether it’s playing gold, riding a bicycle, or going to the opera.

If you are older or if you know that your parents are having difficulties, your experiences, suggestions and comments are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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