Sex after 50: the most common problems and how to deal with them

If you live in an age culture that equates sex with youth, you might think that things in the bedroom fizzle out after you hit a certain age. But in many cases, that’s just not true.

In fact, according to a 2019 survey, 43% of Americans over 50 say their sex lives are “as or more adventurous” than they were in their younger years. Another 2021 study found that 35% of people in this age group say their sex drive is greater now than when they were younger.

That said, our bodies and lives change as we age, which can also result in some shifts in the bedroom.

“However, it is extremely important to note that while changes in sexual feeling and functioning as we age are normal, issues are not, although we sometimes assume they are,” clinical sexologist and sexuality educator Lawrence Siegel told HuffPost.

As we age, we need to set new standards for ourselves and adjust our expectations over time.

“A 55-year-old shouldn’t be trying to maintain the same level of interest or stamina as a 25-year-old,” Siegel said. “While things seem to work automatically when we are younger, we need to give them more effort and awareness as we get older.”

That’s why we asked Siegel and other sex therapists what bedroom problems people in this phase of life often face and how they can tackle them.

1. Negative beliefs about sexuality and aging

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Approaching sex as you age with a negative mindset can get in the way of a fulfilling bedroom life.

Our way of thinking about sex as we get older has a huge impact on our sex life. And negative beliefs in this area are a “much bigger problem than most people realize,” says psychotherapist and sexologist Nan Wise.

“We need to debunk some of the pernicious myths and misconceptions about our sexuality as we mature. Yes, hormonal changes can negatively affect us as our bodies adjust to the shifting sands of time, but this is compounded by our culture’s hang-ups about sex in general and, even more so, about sex as people getting older,’ Wise, author of “Why Good Sex Matters,” told HuffPost.

People in their 50s need to “leave behind the societal stigma of being less sexual because of their age,” says psychologist and sexologist Shannon Chavez. In her practice, she found that many people in this age group have better sex than they did when they were younger.

“They’re clearer about what they want and how to express it,” she told HuffPost. “Sex in their 50s is often more connected and comfortable with less performance anxiety and past sexual hangups. Most people in this age group are more confident and experienced to know what they want and can be much more assertive with a partner.”

2. Vaginal dryness

The drop in estrogen levels that occurs during menopause can cause vaginal dryness, which in turn can affect sexual functioning. It is estimated that about half of postmenopausal women are affected by this condition.

“This can lead to painful or uncomfortable sexual experiences for some, which is why all women over the age of 50 should have a good lubricant on hand,” Siegel said.

Spending more time on foreplay can also be helpful. Being more aroused can increase vaginal lubrication, making sex more pleasurable. If vaginal penetration is too painful, other activities, such as oral sex or using sex toys, may feel more comfortable.

It’s worth noting that many women go through menopause with no “real problems,” Siegel said, “other than a sense of liberation from the chance to conceive.”

3. Erection and Ejaculation Challenges

As men age, things change in the erection department – and that’s normal.

“They won’t have the same types of spontaneous or reflexive erections they used to,” Siegel said. “And they will find that they may need more and more varied stimulation to get or maintain an erection. In addition, they may also notice that their erections are not as hard or robust as they used to be.”

Having erection problems from time to time is not uncommon. But if you can’t develop or maintain an erection most times you try to have sex, you may be dealing with erectile dysfunction. Talk to your doctor, as this could be a sign of an underlying health condition.

Also, the volume of ejaculate and the force with which it is released may be “significantly less” than what they are used to, Siegel said.

“While things seem to work automatically when we are younger, we need to give them more effort and awareness as we get older.”

– Lawrence Siegel, clinical sexologist and sexuality educator

Men have been socialized to think that their sexual vitality “depends on the unfailingly consistent performance of their penises,” Wise said, which “can be a recipe for trouble as men age.”

“It’s also one of the most common issues affecting erection problems,” she said. “Even young men experience erectile dysfunction if they become preoccupied with the condition of their penis during intercourse.”

To combat this, Siegel said, the most important thing is to relieve performance pressure and change the purpose of sex in the first place.

“If we approach sexual encounters thinking we just want to share this pleasurable experience, and if ejaculation occurs, great; if not, it can still be a great, enjoyable experience,” he said. “Our intimate and erotic experiences can greatly increase if we see orgasm less as a goal and more as a fun side effect of sharing pleasure.”

4. Lower sexual desire

Stress, physical health issues, mental health issues, medication side effects, and falling hormone levels can all contribute to decreased libido.

Common problems for people in their 50s include “dealing with changes in their physical bodies and energy levels that can lead to low desire,” Chavez said, noting that menopause and other hormonal shifts are common during this time. “The hormonal shifts not only affect physiology and sexual desire, but can also affect mental health, including fatigue and mood swings,” Chavez added.

She suggested getting a hormone panel to see how you can balance your hormones and reduce unwanted symptoms.

“Most hormonal changes are very manageable with the right support,” she said.

Siegel said, “It’s totally normal” to have less interest in sex as we get older.

“For some, hormone replacement therapy may be appropriate,” he said.
“For others, more naturalistic things like yoga, meditation, and supplements can be helpful.”

Finding ways to reduce stress in your life can improve your libido and overall well-being.

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Finding ways to reduce stress in your life can improve your libido and overall well-being.

Finding ways to reduce stress can increase your desire for sex and make you happier and healthier overall. For example, Wise recommends daily breathing exercises to “access the healing power of the parasympathetic ‘restorative’ state.”

“Most of us spend most of our time in ‘fight or flight,’ which is when the body pumps out stress hormones that aren’t meant to flood us so consistently,” she said. “This constant state of hormonal stress affects our sense of well-being and can also put a kibosh on our sex drive.”

Take five minutes to do this exercise once or twice a day. First, find a quiet place to sit and “give yourself permission to be just the way you are and for the moment to be just the way it is,” Wise said. This is also known as radical acceptance.

“Giving yourself permission to start where you are can help release and ease a lot of the stress we accumulate when we resist what is,” she said.

Then inhale long and smoothly through your nose and exhale long and softly.

“If you make your exhale longer than the inhale, your brilliant body shifts your nervous system into restorative mode, your heart slows down, and your stress hormones decrease,” Wise said.

If stress shows up throughout the day, consider this your cue to slow down your breathing.

“You may find that this simple exercise becomes a wonderful new habit that improves overall well-being and helps you tune in to your zest for life — both in and out of the bedroom,” Wise said. ”Remember that pleasure is not a luxury. It is a necessity for a healthy mind and body and a life worth living!”

Sex after 50: the most common problems and how to deal with them

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