The desire for sex and intimacy in our relationships continues as we age. Sometimes, however, couples find chronic diseases and the ageing process affect their desire or ability to continue their sexual relationships.


Common sexual issues in ageing


 You or your partner may notice some of these problems. Others may never find them an issue.

  1.  Dry vagina after menopause:  The vagina tends to become less moist once periods stop. Using a water-based lubricant during intercourse will help. Or you may need hormonal treatment prescribed by your doctor. In tablet form, this can be taken orally or inserted into the vagina. Vaginal tablets act locally and are not generally associated with the potential risks of oral hormone replacement therapies.
  2. Difficulty maintaining an erection:  This issue becomes more common for men in their 50s and older. It may be related to physical health, medications or stress or have another cause. Simple solutions include: • avoiding excessive alcohol • getting enough sleep and exercise • avoiding getting too stressed about it • if appropriate, changing medications after discussion with your doctor. Your doctor can discuss other effective treatments specific to your needs.
  3. Change in sexual desire (libido): This can happen at any age and is often related to life stressors. If we are preoccupied or worried about something, we have less interest in sex and a lower libido. It can also be hormonal or simply related to how we feel about our ageing body. Physical limitations or pain caused by conditions like arthritis may also affect libido. Low libido is usually only an issue if there is a difference in sexual desire between partners. Discussing these issues with your partner and your doctor may help.
  4. New sexual partners: Even though older couples may not be at risk of pregnancy, they are still at risk of sexually transmissible infections (STIs). Some infections, such as genital herpes, wart virus (HPV), syphilis, HIV and hepatitis B, can still be contagious many years after they were acquired. We recommend you practise safe sex and consider STI tests.
  5. Sex and chronic disease:  For some couples, having a chronic disease may have no impact on sex. For others, being ill can completely change their sex life. For any condition, whether discussed in this pamphlet or not, talk with your partner and treating doctors about your sexual concerns. It can be easier than you think and can help resolve many fears and find solutions for your concerns. Common issues with any chronic disease can be: • low libido − often related to stress, depression, anxiety or the effects of medication • physical changes affecting your ability to have intercourse − related to either the penis, the vagina or the body in general, e.g. severe arthritis may reduce mobility and the ability to enjoy sex in certain positions • concerns about how intercourse may affect an underlying condition − e.g. after a heart attack, a couple may be concerned that vigorous sex may be ‘dangerous’.