Sex and the over 60s: why do so many of us go off the idea and what can we do about it?
PUBLISHED: 12:33 03 May 2019 | UPDATED: 16:03 03 May 2019
Sharon Morrison is fed up of certain subjects being unmentionable for the over 60s. So, she's gone for it this time. Should she even be talking about why sex can hold less of an appeal as we get older? Let us know...
Am I allowed to say this? Well, I've reached an age when I feel like no one else is going to, so I might as well start the conversation.
Anyway, here goes...
So, if orgasms were available on the NHS, we'd be a far healthier and happier nation.
Orgasms boost the secretion of endorphins, oxytocin and dopamine, a powerful cocktail of sex hormones and associated neurotransmitters, that not only make you feel ecstatic, they help to regulate appetite, sleep, attention span and memory, while reducing stress and giving you a bit of a work out.
These are all highly attractive and beneficial side effects especially as you age, but to have an orgasm you've usually got to have sex and for some of us sex doesn't hold the same appeal any more.
Loss of libido is the main culprit, and it's common enough, affecting up to one in five men, and even more women, at some point in their life. It's often linked to relationship issues, stress or tiredness, as well as treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and hormonal changes brought about by pregnancy, childbirth and breast feeding.
It's usually temporary which is the good news.
The one to watch out for though, the BIG one, is the menopause.
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This usually happens when you're approaching or are in your 50s, and the drop in oestrogen and testosterone production will affect your sex drive, but hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can be an effective 'antidote' for many.
However, oestrogen is a far more important hormone than I ever realised and, had I known this a few years ago, I would have been far more proactive in negating its absence.
Here's the back story: I was 48 when I started the menopause thanks to the chemotherapy treatment I was undergoing, then I had both my ovaries removed as a risk-reducing procedure due to my faulty BRCA1 gene, which meant, from that moment on I had no oestrogen in my body, nada, nothing, yet it's vital to many functions.
In fact I'd go so far as to say it's a wonder hormone; it improves the thickness and quality of the skin as well as its collagen content, and we all want that; it helps to preserve bone strength and prevent bone loss and we all need that, and it regulates cholesterol production in the liver to protect the heart and arteries, ditto. Who knew?
Well I didn't and no clinician thought to inform me, and I've seen so many.
But let's go back to tissue heath, because that includes the vagina, where oestrogen increases the acidity that reduces bacterial infections.
It also helps to keep it lubricated; without oestrogen the walls of the vagina will become thin, dry and inflamed (known as vaginal atrophy – paints a picture doesn't it?) and sex can be very painful, you're also more prone to urinary tract infections (UTIs) and you might start feeling an urgency when you pee or you even develop urinary incontinence.
If any of this chimes with you, don't worry, because you can do something about it.
First you need to get your vagina healthy again, and your doctor will be able to advise you on your options, and whether you should go the systemic route and take oestrogen orally, or use a local therapy like Vagifem, which just treats the area, advisable if you have a history of breast cancer. There are lubricants too, which will help, but the medication is necessary.
I'm not assuming that everyone reading this is interested in regular sex; you may be perfectly happy having sex on date nights only, infrequently or not at all, whichever it is, you should still take steps to avoid those painful UTIs and they're such simple steps. But for those of us who are interested in the intimacy, arousal and fulfilment that comes with intercourse, there's a lot to look forward to… especially if your single. According to the 2018 annual Singles in America report, a survey of 5,000 single people in the US, your sex life reaches its peak in your 60s, with single men having the best sex at 64 years old and women at 66. That was always a good year.
We're all getting older and want to enjoy our lives as much as we can, so it helps to be both proactive and reactive and it's never too late to start. Every week I'll be covering a different age-related health topic in my Age Inappropriate column, but if you've got a specific issue that's bothering you or that you'd like discussed, please send me an email and I'll see what I can do at firstname.lastname@example.org